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On Keeping Secrets and the Power of Stories: a guest post by Michele Bacon

woman covers her face with her hands

At 17, I was madly in love with a clever, playful, adorable boy. I loved him fiercely. And—to my utter surprise—he loved me. Together, Michael and I did theater, marching band, and speech team. Over three (mostly) blissful years, we shared everything: our most cherished dreams, our ugliest failures, our triumphs, and our personal insecurities.

I say this not to induce envy (or eye rolling), but to emphasize how serious our relationship was.

About six months after we broke up—when I was 21—I confided in him: I had grown up in an abusive household. Michael was stunned that I’d never told him.

I had never told anyone.

During my parents’ messy divorce, I spoke with the judge, lawyers, and a therapist I adored. My father didn’t like that therapist’s analysis, so we saw another therapist. We were dug into our church at the time, so I spoke with my minister, too.

Those adults were keen to help me, but I never divulged what my father had done to me and to my family. The horrors I experienced, heard, and saw were too embarrassing and shameful. I was broken, and I thought sharing my abuse would taint people’s opinion of me. And, in a way that is now difficult to understand, I was terrified that telling would get me in trouble.

Until a few weeks ago, I had told only three or four friends. But now I’m saying it (to the Internet, no less): I grew up in an abusive household.

Being hurt—physically, psychologically, or emotionally—changes a person.

It made me feel that I was less something than everyone else. I started believing emotionally or physically abusive relationships were okay. That heavy, awful feeling, defined how I viewed my place in the world.

It still does.

Now, let’s be honest, we all have at least one ugly secret that devours us from the inside as we try desperately to conceal it. Perhaps you pretend to not be dyslexic. You don’t talk about your twin who died at birth. You conceal your gender or sexuality. You are poor. You are passing. You’re losing your hearing. You’ve left your religion.

book cover: Life Before. Dirty red sneakers sit in front of a backpackIt doesn’t matter what it is; everyone has something. And we all have the right to keep parts of ourselves private. And I have, for a long time.

Last month, I admitted to a room full of people that I had grown up in abuse, and that my greatest childhood fear was that my father would murder my mother. After I spoke, several women told me, privately, that they had the same secret. Or the same childhood. Or the same fear. Me too echoed around me, and several people said they’d never told a soul.

That is the power of stories: Me too.

Imagine how my life would be different if I’d had that moment at 13. Or 17. Or 19. During my teen years—that amazing intersection of opportunity, energy, and idealism—Me too could have changed my life.

In the last month, I’ve shed the fear that everyone would reject me if I revealed my ugly secret, and I’ve realized that hiding what I perceive as shameful parts of myself doesn’t make them any less a part of me. In the last few weeks, stories have poured from the hearts of readers. They’ve said me too. This shouldn’t have happened to any of us, but it did. For the first time in my life, I am not ashamed. I am done keeping secrets. And I am sharing my story, and the ugly parts of me.

Stories are powerful, and sharing stories makes us stronger. These days, I walk into author talks at schools and libraries knowing someone might ask personal questions. I feel vulnerable, but I’m doing it, and I am encouraging other people to tell the stories they can bear to share. Your story might come at just the right time. Someone who is hiding in the dark shadows of shame may hear “Me too” and step into the light.

 

author photoAbout Michele Bacon 

Michele writes fiction for adults and young adults. She lives in Seattle with her family. Her first novel, Life Before, publishes June 7th, 2016. She loves hearing from readers, fellow writers, and anyone who would like to say #metoo.
You can find her:
Via email at writer(at)michelebacon(dot)com
On Twitter @michelebacon,
On Instagram as WriterMicheleBacon
On Tumblr as michelebacon

 

About Life Before

book cover: Life Before. Dirty red sneakers sit in front of a backpackFor seventeen years, Xander Fife has been keeping secrets. (Almost) no one knows about his abusive father. If he can get through this summer, he’s off to college, where real life finally begins.

What’s more, the summer before college will be amazing: lots of pick-up soccer, long days hanging out with friends, and an epic road trip. Xander also is banking on some long overdue nights with his ideal girlfriend, the amazing Gretchen Taylor.

Instead of kicking off what had promised to be an amazing summer, however, graduation day brings terror. When Xander’s mother is murdered, his family’s secrets are thrust out into the open, and Xander must confront his greatest fear.

Armed with a fake ID, cash, and a knife, Xander skips town and assumes a new identity. Hundreds of miles from home and in danger, one thing is clear: Xander’s real life is already in progress and just getting through it isn’t enough.

 

Teen lives in documentaries

Teens live amazing lives. We know that, but we don’t always see it. These eight documentaries peek into the complicated, emotional, thought provoking lives of teens.

Magic Camp

It looks a little like Hogwarts, and the greatest magicians of our time have emerged from its doors. It’s Tannen’s, a summer camp for aspiring magicians.

Maidentrip

At thirteen, she fought in court for the right to pursue her dream: to sail alone around the world. She filmed much of the footage herself over the course of her two year solo voyage.

Louder Than a Bomb

Chicago area high school teams of talented poets compete in the world’s largest slam poetry competition.

Hot Girls Wanted

Using Craigslist and the promise of a free ticket to Miami, the “pro-amateur” porn industry thrives on eighteen and nineteen year old girls, eager for fame and escape. Disturbing and frank.

OT: Our Town

Twenty years have passed since this Compton high school has put on a play. Now they’re tackling one set in a small rural town nearly a century ago.

Girl Rising

Nine girls from nine different countries were the inspiration for these stories, voiced by renowned actors.

Fame High

What does living a life of art really mean? Teens at this California high school for the arts strive to understand that, and decide if they have what it takes to succeed in this highly competitive world.

Medora

Like Friday Night Lights used high school football as the lens through which to view a small Texas town, here a high school basketball team on a miserable losing streak serves to illuminate a struggling Indiana community.

TAB Book Discussion: THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS by Marieke Nijkamp

tiwie9 I have a secret: I have never been able to succeffully host a teen book discussion group at any of the libraries I have worked at. At most I ever got 3 people to attend, so I eventually gave it up and moved on to more successful programming. But I was contacted by Sourcebooks and given the opportunity to host a book discussion of the upcoming January release THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS by Marieke Nijkamp and I jumped at the chance. The main difference this time? I was going to be hosting it in my house with the TLT Teen Advisory Board.

So on Thursday, November 12th 4 TLT TAB members and a couple of their friends met at my house to discuss THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS. We had 6 teens all together and they had all read and loved the book. Discussion kits were sent to me a few weeks earlier by Sourcebooks to help us prepare for our discussion. At the end I asked each teen to share a short review of the book and we asked each teen to share visually their overall impression of the book. That information follows the Publisher’s Book Description.

Here are our TLT TAB members getting ready to discuss THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS

Here are our TLT TAB members getting ready to discuss THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS

Publisher’s Book Description

thisiswhereitends10:00 a.m.
The principal of Opportunity, Alabama’s high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

10:02 a.m.
The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

10:03
The auditorium doors won’t open.

10:05
Someone starts shooting.

Told over the span of 54 harrowing minutes from four different perspectives, terror reigns as one student’s calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.

 

 

The Teens’ Reactions

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Melanie, 12th grade

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“In the debut novel by Marieke Nijkemp, it displays an ever growing situation that is being an everyday problem. The author utilizes literary devices to portray an event told by different perspectives. It moved readers and changed the way we viewed things.”

Lexi, 12th grade

tiwie6

“This book swept the rug out from underneath my feet. I felt every death, felt every pain these deaths caused, felt the devastation these twins faced. This book ripped me apart and only when I lost all hope did it stitch me back together.”

Kris, 11th grade

tiwie5

“This book kept me wondering and always on the edge of my seat. I always [wanted] to know more and was always changing how I felt about characters. It was constantly having my emotions played with. Great read had me hooked from the first few pages.”

The Teen, 7th grade

tiwie4

“This book captured the pure horror of an event and beautifully told the story of many people. It also created the image of people who change and how they turn into what they are. Just perfect.”

Cat, 7th grade

tiwie3

“Unexpected and captures the true terror of the people inside the school and outside. Tells of people’s life and how each of them contribute to Tyler’s story. beautifully written, it’s a story of a school shooting. I understand how people react to the shooting and how your life is at risk. Also, if my loved one’s died I would die inside.”

The Bestie, 7th grade

tiwie1

“Unexpected and suspenseful in so many ways. No changes are needed to make this one of the best book’s ever. I’m in love with the mind-blowing ending and the twists and turns of a crazy high school experience.”

The Discussion

This is a really powerful book for a book discussion. There were a lot of characters to discuss, a lot of events, and of course the teens had a lot to say about the topic of school violence and even gun control. The three older teens all go to a magnet school and it was interesting to note that they all felt safe there. They said there was almost no bullying and they thought it may be in part because each student there chose to go to that school. In comparison, the three younger teens all talked about the bullying and fighting in their school. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago there was an incident where someone in the local high school had made threats and had been arrested.

Although the teens were overwhelmingly positive about the reading experience, there was some heated discussion about characters, motivation and, as I mentioned, gun control. One of the teens felt that the book was perhaps propaganda for gun control because they didn’t really present another viewpoint. Although in the end she was still really enjoyed the book and her reading experience. I’m not sure that I agree with her about the gun control issue because it doesn’t really come up one way or the other in the book; because it is a book about a school shooting it of course must show someone using a gun for a negative purpose. Towards the end there are multiple police present so it could be argued that both sides are shown. But like I said, it was an interesting and at times intense discussion.

Our primary discussion revolved around the characters. It was interesting to note that all 6 of the teens had a different favorite character. It was also interesting to note how sympathetic they felt towards various characters and why. THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS presents a diverse cast of characters, which I appreciated

As you can probably tell, this was a great book. I think intense is a really good word for it. Be sure to check out Amanda’s recent Take 5 on some newer titles dealing with school violence.

THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS by Marieke Nijkamp will be published in January of 2016 by Sourcebooks Fire. ISBN: 978-1-4926-2246-8

The #MHYALit Discussion Hub – Mental Health in Young Adult Literature

MHYALitlogoofficfialAfter our first year of the #SVYALit Project, we decided that we at TLT liked the way the format worked and wanted to use it to discuss other topics of relevance to the life of teens. One of the ideas we discussed was using the format to discuss mental health issues in the life of teens and in YA literature, but I was not yet quite ready to delve more deeply into that topic because I was not yet ready to admit my own personal struggles with depression and anxiety. Earlier this year I did in fact share my personal story, which seemed to be the last stumbling point in TLT embracing the #SVYALit format to move forward in discussing mental health. So today we are excited to announce that in addition to #SVYALit and #FSYALit, in 2016 we will be using this same format to more fully discuss both poverty and mental health in the life of teens. Thus, we are excited to put out a call for guest posters for the #MHYALit Discussion (Mental Health in YA Literature).

1 in 5 teens will be diagnosed with some type of mental health issue. In addition, many other teens will be affected by mental health issues in the family as their parents, siblings, and friends struggle with mental health issues. During 2016 TLT would like to really use YA literature to discuss mental health issues in the life of teens. And we need your help. If you would like to write a guest post or share a book list, please contact me at kjensenmls at yahoo dot com. We will be talking throughout 2016, but we would really like to have a good array of posts to launch in early 2016. Amanda MacGregor and Ally Watkins will be helping to organize and coordinate this discussion.

There are lots of important conversations happening right now in many ways about mental health issues. Lots of people are being brave and sharing their personal struggles. Lots of great teen advocates, librarians, authors, and other professionals are engaging in these important conversations and we recommend reading and engaging in as many of them as possible. It’s a huge issue in the life of teens. We are not qualified experts in this discussion, though many of us at TLT have struggled with mental health issues in a variety of ways. And we have of course worked with many teens who have shared their personal stories and struggles with us; this has impacted our understanding of the issues and made us more cognizant to how important this topic is. We hope you’ll join us in reading and writing about this topic.

Project Goals:

  • To facilitate a discussion about the ways various mental health issues are presented and discussed in YA literature.
  • To examine specific titles and create lists of titles that those wanting to look for titles with diverse representations of various mental health issues can add to their collections or buy for the teens in their lives.
  • To include a wide variety of voices on the topic of mental health issues in the life of teens.

Some Basic Information

According to the NCCP, approximately 20% of adolescents have a diagnosed mental health issue. Most mental health disorders begin to present in the adolescent years. Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among adolescents. According to NAMI, 50% of children who present with a mental illness will drop out of school.

In addition, a variety of teens are living in houses where they are being raised by a parent who suffers from some type of mental health issue. Approximately 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder. These are the parents, grandparents, and love ones of many of our teens.

Mental health issues are an important issue for teens. Reading stories about characters with mental health disorders can help teens understand their parents, their friends, or their selves. It can give them hope. It can affirm and validate their experiences. Below are links to several lists of YA titles that deal with mental health issues in some way.

Addiction

Where Are the Books on Addiction for Your Mental Health Book List? by author Christa Desir

Anxiety/Panic

Anxiety, Me and It’s All Your Fault, by guest blogger Liz Anderson

Pretending to be Normal: A Story About My Anxiety by Jessica Sankiewicz

Anxiety, Me and Fangirl, a guest post by Danielle Masterson

Panic: What Fear Feels Like by author Tom Leveen

Book Review: Underwater by Marisa Reichardt

Accepting Anxiety, a guest post by Jessica Spotswood

How to Manage, reflections on anxiety by Ally Watkins

Knowing When to Talk About It, a Guest Post by Kathryn Holmes

Anxiety Disorder, My Son, and Me by Amanda MacGregor

It’s Okay Not to Be Okay, a guest post by author Claire Legrand

Ill Enough, a guest post by Nita Tyndall

Bipolar

Shattered Illusions: Growing up with a Bipolar Father, a guest post by Kim Baccellia

Depression

Depression and Obsession: The Pressure of Teen Athletes, by Mia Siegert

Major Depressive Dropout, a guest post by Bryson McCrone.

On depression and Melina Marchetta’s Saving Francesca, by author Carrie Mesrobian

Reading Lists: Depression, a guest post by Natalie Korsavidis

Book Review: We Are The Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

Eating the Nuts, a guest post reflecting on depression by author Mackenzi Lee

Book Review: 100 Days of Cake by Shari Goldhagen

Eating Disorders

Haunting the 616.85 Section, a #MHYALit guest post by BELIEVAREXIC author J. J. Johnson

The Fantasy of Being Thin and YA Lit, a guest post by Katelyn Browne

“Eating Disorder” Books: How They Only Show Half of the Struggle, a guest post by Jen Petro-Roy

Grief and Loss

A Place Where I Know: Writing About Grief by Hannah Barnaby

Survivor’s Guilt: The Aftermath of Grief by Sherri L. Smith

Medication

On Medication, a guest post by author Emery Lord

Mental Health Care/Advocacy

When the Ending Is Not the End: Mental Health and Accepting the Long-Term Journey by Annie Cardi

On Narrative Expectations and the Reflection of Truth, by author Stephanie Kuehn

How Libraries Can Help Teens, by Librarian Dawn Abron

You Are Not Alone, The Primary Message by E. Sparling

How My Debut Year Got Me to Therapy and Why That’s a Good Thing by Annie Cardi

Taking a Historical Look at Mental Health with Mindy McGinnis and A MADNESS SO DISCREET

Book Review: The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork

Pushed Too Hard: Academic Pressure and Mental Health Concerns by Cindy L. Rodriguez

You Won’t Find Girl Interrupted’s Angelina Jolie But At Least You’ll Be Safe! Why Being Hospitalized for Mental Health Issues Isn’t a Bad Thing, a guest post by Ami Allen-Vath

Talking about mental health-related books and issues with teens

The Best Way to Erase the Stigma of Mental Health – Talk About It! by Deanna Cabinian

Puzzling Through Teen Mental Health, a conversation with Emily Franklin and H.A. Swain

You’re Not Alone, a guest post by author Pintip Dunn

Psychological Thrillers and Mental Health

Kneejerk Reactions are Just Jerky, a guest post by author Stacie Ramey

Faith Shaming and Mental Illness, Reflecting on Faith and Mental Illness for the #MHYALit Project

Five Ways to Cope: A Survival Guide for Family Members of Those with Mental Illnesses

Seven Myths About Mental Illness, a guest post by author Paula Stokes

Who Cares for the Caregivers?

Let’s Talk About How We Talk About Mental Health

Please Let’s Stop Telling People with Mental Health Issues to Just X, Y or Z

From Our Mailbox: #MHYALit and POC

This Book Will Save Your Life, a guest post by author Kathleen Glasgow

My Definition of Crazy, a guest post by author Lois Metzger

Why You Shouldn’t Ban Your Kid from the Internet, a guest post by Laura Tims

#MHYALit Interview with HIGHLY ILLOGICAL BEHAVIOR author John Corey Whaley

Enough: A #MHYALIT guest post by Katie H.

Those Left Behind, discussing the ways that the mental health struggles of others affect teens, a guest post by Katherine Fleet

Teens, Mental Health and the Places it Takes Them, a guest post by Kerry Sutherland

OCD

Author Tamara Ireland Stone Interviews a Teen Called C about OCD

10 Things I Wish You Knew About OCD, by author Tamara Ireland Stone and C

The Story is Enough: Writing the Books I Needed to Read, a guest post by Jackie Lea Sommers

OCD Tales – Reflections on an OCD Sufferer’s Sabbatical Study of YA Novels of Mental Illness by Diane Scrofano

PTSD

Chronic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Ada, and Me by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

It’s Not Your Fault: Living Each Day with PTSD by Tom Leveen

Speak Up! A guest post about PTSD by author Shannon Greenland

Book Review: Meet Me Here by Bryan Bliss

Schizophrenia

Reading Lists: Schizophrenia, a guest post by Natalie Korsavidis

Self-harm

Picking at Problems, a look at self-harm by author Robison Wells

The Truth I Forgot to Remember, a guest post by Sashi Kaufman

Book Review: Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow

Suicide

Author Ann Jacobus Talks About Suicide

Sunday Reflections: Kicking off the Year of #MHYALit

Before and After, a guest post by Melissa Montovani

Nineteen Years of Living, a guest post by Shaun David Hutchinson

Therapy

Writing a Therapy-Positive Book, a guest post by Marisa Reichardt

What You Want to Hear, a guest post by Shari Goldhagen

Booklists

Reading Lists: Schizophrenia, a guest post by Natalie Korsavidis

Reading Lists: Depression, a guest post by Natalie Korsavidis

Book Reviews

Book Review: The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork

Book Review: We Are The Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

Book Review: Underwater by Marisa Reichardt

Book Review: 100 Days of Cake by Shari Goldhagen

Book Review: Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow

Book Review: Meet Me Here by Bryan Bliss

Previous TLT Posts

Top 10: Books dealing with mental health (guest post by Kim Baccellia)

How Mental Illness Tried and Failed to Ruin My Life (guest post by Robison Wells)

Mental Health Medications Are Not Your Enemy

List of Lists: Teens and Mental Health Resources

Sunday Reflections: Today, I am Eeyore (a reflection on depression and anxiety in the life of tweens and teens)

Medication, Depression, and I Was Here

O Captain, My Captain: In which I mourn the loss of a childhood hero and discuss depression and suicide

The Murder of a Shopping Bag Lady: mental illness in three acts

Diverse Teens, Diverse Needs

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness (discusses medication)

Additional Book Lists and Discussions Around the Internet

For Statistics, Facts and Resources, Check Out These Resources

We need your help building our resource guide! Have a book list or blog post you want to see included? Please email us a link at kjensenmls at yahoo dot com. Although we will be taking guest posts all throughout 2016, if you know you would like to participate in the launch in early 2016, please email me by the end of September. We will be continuing our discussions on #SVYALit, #FSYALit, #Poverty and #MHYALit throughout all of 2016. Thank you for your help in discussing this important issues in the life of teens.

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Reflections of Reality: Foster Teens and Orphans in Young Adult Science Fiction, a guest post by Kerry Sutherland

In 2013, there were 510,000 American children in foster care. 40% of foster children are between the ages of 13 and 21 years old. 9% of foster care teens will age out of the foster care system and are more likely to experience homelessness. You can find more Foster Care Statitics and follow a link to find your state statistics here. See also the Child Welfare Information Gateway. I have often felt that foster teens were very under-represented in YA literature. If you expand the definition to include teens who are being raised by relatives or family friends, like grandparents for example, than what I see happening in my local communities is not being reflected in YA literature at all. Today guest poster and librarian Kerry Sutherland discusses foster care in YA science fiction.

As a science fiction fan, I don’t usually seek out realistic fiction for pleasure reading. As a School Library Journal reviewer, I often receive realistic fiction to review, and my work on the In the Margins Book Award and Selection Committee revolves almost entirely on realistic stories that would appeal to young people in marginalized situations, so most of what I read that is contemporary and true-to-life comes from these two sources. A big part of adolescent development revolves around learning that the world doesn’t revolve around “me,” and that the “others” around us need our attention, concern, and empathy, so as I have been reading the many disturbing stories (some nonfiction) for my In the Margins work over the past year and a half, I began to wonder how young adult readers with my reading preferences might connect to these “others” if the situations in the stories they read are fantastic and outrageous. This question lurked in the back of my mind during my recreational reading, and I noticed that authors of some recent young adult science fiction not only include orphaned or foster teen characters but they integrate those characters’ vulnerability into the plot itself, so readers can’t help but make the connection between the characters’ orphaned or foster care status and the difficulties they face, even though the storylines themselves are spectacularly and entertainingly unrealistic. A line from the title story in one of my favorite short story collections of the past year, Jean Thompson’s The Witch, jumped out at me as I was thinking on this: “There is no greater powerlessness than being a child.” These three books absolutely enforce that sad reality, and in doing so, show many teen readers an alternate reality they might not otherwise understand or even care about: a reality where young people are without supervision, without care, and as such, vulnerable to exploitation for adult gain.

tabularasaUsing vulnerable children is the focus of medical researchers in Kristen Lippert-Martin’s Tabula Rasa, where inmates of juvenile detention centers, most of whom are wards of the state and without an adult who has an emotional interest in them, are targets for experiments that involve erasing their memories. Not surprisingly, most of these kids “jumped at the chance” to participate in these experiments, knowing that the opportunity might be their only hope to have a future as an adult without their painful pasts as emotional baggage. How many of these children, like so many in reality, are in custody for no other reason than their status as orphans or foster children who have acted out their frustration, depression, and confusion in attempts to take control over their lives? A nurse at the research facility tells Sarah, the main character, that she is “a girl with a violent past, a bad attitude, and no future. Just like the rest of them.” What little she knows of Sarah, who has, at this point, difficulty with her memory, is what the authorities have told her, and her last statement is very telling of her general judgment of all her teenage patients who have been culled from detention. No future – so the present treatment of these neglected children is of no consequence, as they have no value except as experimental material. Hopeless and expendable, and as Sarah discovers of the woman who killed her mother and now targets Sarah: “I am a thing to her. Nothing more.”

vaultofdreamersThe disturbing experimentation in Caragh O’Brien’s The Vault of Dreamers involves indigent children as well, who are mined of their dreams which are then sold to the rich for their entertainment. Students at a high school for the arts promoted as a reality television show are monitored, without their knowledge or consent, for seeds of dreams that expand in the brains of a group of comatose children who belong to no one and are kept locked away, alive in a dream state, cared for physically by those who only do so in order to use them. How different is this than the fate of the main character Ruby’s love interest, Linus, who donates blood on a monthly basis to pay his rent? Linus chooses to donate in an effort to save his friend Otis’s partner, Parker, who has Alzheimer’s Disease, but the doctor at the school infirmary insists that Linus doesn’t “have to let them tap you. I can’t see that it’s making any difference for him. I’ve told Otis that many times.” Linus is seventeen now, and nearly an adult who can make such a decision on his own, but his donations started when he was thirteen, just after running away from foster care, when “nobody looked too hard for me when I cut out on my own.” An orphan, he had nowhere to go, and fell prey first to a photographer looking for a swimsuit model and then to Otis, who may mean well and treat Linus kindly, but by the time Ruby meets Linus, the balance of power is becoming more level and the vampiric nature of the relationship is coming to light. As an orphan and then a forgotten foster child, Linus was an easy target for Otis, who finds nothing wrong with trading parental concern for blood, and a young Linus was willing to take a chance, because really, how many choices did he have at the time?

bzrkTaking chances is what Billy the Kid in one of my favorite series, Michael Grant’s BZRK, is all about. Billy the Kid, as he calls himself, enjoys the freedom that his disinterested foster parent allows, as he comes and goes as he pleases and spends enough time gaming online that his scores, posted in a forum, draw the attention of the insane and anonymous leader of the guerrilla group BZRK. Billy uses this opportunity to throw himself into the exciting and adventurous life BZRK offers. At thirteen years old, he takes ridiculous chances with his life with the encouragement of his compatriots (which include other teens) who do the same, and ultimately, this “scrawny mixed-race kid” ends up nearly decapitated in the name of the cause, his life a sacrifice in the harsh reality of battle. Ignored and then used, Billy, who refers to himself online as “unconnected, sick of where he was, looking for . . . well, looking” finds a home and a purpose, losing his life in his quest to fit into a group led by someone who looks at the participants, including this thirteen year old child, as expendable weapons in her fight. Does he make friends? Does he feel accepted? Absolutely. He is mourned and missed by his partners, but this, of course, doesn’t compensate for a young life lost. Without parents who care for him, he makes choices that lead to his death, choices no thirteen year old should be expected to make. Throwing one’s self into the line of fire for any reason is clearly a decision meant for an adult mind, but Billy chooses the purpose and excitement this real-life game offers, along with the companionship of others who are misfits for a variety of reasons, brought together for a cause that is greater than their leader’s – acceptance.

The teen characters in these three science fiction thrillers may be sad mirrors of the ugly truth that foster care is a broken system, but their stories also offer hope in the form of teen and adult allies who help the teens take control of their lives and insist on respect from their peers and adults, as well as assert their right to personal dignity, regardless of the outcome. For readers in custodial situations, the concept is empowering; for readers fortunate enough to appreciate a family of their own, these characters shed light on the emotional lives of peers who otherwise may go unnoticed. Empathy for fictional characters may lead to connections to real children in need of a friend who is open to understanding, an advocate who will not judge them or their situation, a teen like themselves who will accept them as an individual regardless of their home (or lack thereof) situation. Sometimes it just takes one person to reach out and make a difference in someone’s life, and I am hopeful that with the influence of young adult fiction that honestly represents the emotional difficulties and vulnerabilities of orphaned and foster children, the young adult reader of even the most unrealistic of fiction may be the someone who makes that difference.

Meet Our Guest Blogger, Kerry Sutherland

I am the teen librarian at the Ellet Branch of the Akron-Summit County Public Library in Akron, Ohio, and have a PhD in American literature from Kent State University, along with a MLIS from the same. I am a book reviewer for School Library Journal and RT Book Reviews magazine, as well as a published author of fiction, poetry, professional and academic work. I love cats, Henry James, NASCAR, and anime. I read everything, because you only live once.

About the Books

Publisher’s Description for TABULA RASA

The Bourne Identity meets Divergent in this heart-pounding debut.

Sixteen-year-old Sarah has a rare chance at a new life. Or so the doctors tell her. She’s been undergoing a cutting-edge procedure that will render her a tabula rasa—a blank slate. Memory by memory her troubled past is being taken away.

But when her final surgery is interrupted and a team of elite soldiers invades the isolated hospital under cover of a massive blizzard, her fresh start could be her end.

Navigating familiar halls that have become a dangerous maze with the help of a teen computer hacker who’s trying to bring the hospital down for his own reasons, Sarah starts to piece together who she is and why someone would want her erased. And she won’t be silenced again.

A high-stakes thriller featuring a non-stop race for survival and a smart heroine who will risk everything, Tabula Rasa is, in short, unforgettable. (Egmont)

Publisher’s Description for THE VAULT OF DREAMERS:

From the author of the Birthmarked trilogy comes a fast-paced, psychologically thrilling novel about what happens when your dreams are not your own.

The Forge School is the most prestigious arts school in the country. The secret to its success:  every moment of the students’ lives is televised as part of the insanely popular Forge Show, and the students’ schedule includes twelve hours of induced sleep meant to enhance creativity. But when first year student Rosie Sinclair skips her sleeping pill, she discovers there is something off about Forge. In fact, she suspects that there are sinister things going on deep below the reaches of the cameras in the school. What’s worse is, she starts to notice that the edges of her consciousness do not feel quite right. And soon, she unearths the ghastly secret that the Forge School is hiding—and what it truly means to dream there. (Roaring Brook Press)

Publisher’s Description for BZRK:

Love The Hunger Games?  Action-adventure thrillers with a dystopian twist? BZRK (Berserk) by Michael Grant, New York Times best-selling author of the GONE series, ramps up the action and suspense to a whole new level of excitement.

Set in the near future, BZRK is the story of a war for control of the human mind.  Charles and Benjamin Armstrong, conjoined twins and owners of the Armstrong Fancy Gifts Corporation, have a goal:  to turn the world into their vision of utopia.  No wars, no conflict, no hunger.  And no free will.  Opposing them is a guerrilla group of teens, code name BZRK, who are fighting to protect the right to be messed up, to be human.  This is no ordinary war, though.  Weapons are deployed on the nano-level. The battleground is the human brain.  And there are no stalemates here:  It’s victory . . . or madness.

BZRK unfolds with hurricane force around core themes of conspiracy and mystery, insanity and changing realities, engagement and empowerment, and the larger impact of personal choice. Which side would you choose?  How far would you go to win? (Egmont)

 

Abortion in YA Literature: Beyond the Issues, a guest post by Hilary T. Smith

There have been many recent articles written suggesting that sex in YA literature is the last taboo. I, however, would argue that just as it is in the real world, abortion remains the last taboo in YA literature. Which isn’t surprising when you consider it is the last taboo in almost all of main stream media. Although statistics indicate that by the time they are 45 one in four women will have an abortion, you can probably count on both of your hands the number of tv shows, movies and books that mention abortion. Even fewer still where the main character not only considers an abortion but goes through with the procedure. But Hilary T. Smith has written one, a YA book where a teenager not only contemplates having an abortion, but follows through with the procedure. A Sense of the Infinite is not, however, a book about abortion. It is a book where a main character goes through the process of living her life and one of the vignettes of her life includes having an abortion. A Sense of the Infinite is, in fact, primarily about relationships and finding yourself. It also is about body image issues, sexual violence and consent, eating disorders, art, and trying to figure out what to do after you graduate high school. It’s about coming of age.

Here today to talk with us about issues in YA novels is author Hilary T. Smith . . .

senseoftheinfiniteOne of the most important processes that takes place during adolescence and young adulthood is developing a sense of compassion. Our parents all communicate biases to us, whether they intend to or not: “homeless people are bad” or “other races are scary” or “girls who do that are going to hell.” These biases can prepare us to react with contempt, horror, or hostility when we meet someone who belongs to one of these categories. But the freedom of adolescence also gives us an opportunity to grow beyond these biases and develop a sense of shared humanity instead.

A big part of this growth process can happen just by chance encounters with people you previously saw as “the other”—your first conversation with a homeless person, an ex-convict, a pole dancer, or a refugee. Or it can take place when friends and family members reveal things about themselves that force you to reconsider your judgements and decide that you can love a person who belongs to the forbidden category.

But if you don’t have these encounters—if you never spend a six-hour Greyhound ride chatting with a girl your age who just had an abortion, or share a Starbucks shift with a boy your religion told you to hate, or become best friends with a person who grew up in dramatically different circumstances than you—there’s a chance you’ll carry those biases into adulthood.

Books are one way of giving teens those encounters, and encouraging the resulting sense of compassion to flower.

For me, writing a novel with an abortion thread was not about presenting an “issue” to be debated, but about making the world a safer, saner, and more compassionate place for all readers. Books about abortion, mental illness, and similar topics are not only for readers who are experiencing these situations themselves; they help us all awaken to our shared humanity, and go forward with greater wisdom, gentleness, and love.

About A SENSE OF THE INFINITE:

By the author of the critically acclaimed Wild Awake, a beautiful coming-of-age story about deep friendship, the weight of secrets, and the healing power of nature.

It’s senior year of high school, and Annabeth is ready—ready for everything she and her best friend, Noe, have been planning and dreaming. But there are some things Annabeth isn’t prepared for, like the constant presence of Noe’s new boyfriend. Like how her relationship with her mom is wearing and fraying. And like the way the secret she’s been keeping hidden deep inside her for years has started clawing at her insides, making it hard to eat or even breathe.

But most especially, she isn’t prepared to lose Noe.

For years, Noe has anchored Annabeth and set their joint path. Now Noe is drifting in another direction, making new plans and dreams that don’t involve Annabeth. Without Noe’s constant companionship, Annabeth’s world begins to crumble. But as a chain of events pulls Annabeth further and further away from Noe, she finds herself closer and closer to discovering who she’s really meant to be—with her best friend or without.

Hilary T. Smith’s second novel is a gorgeously written meditation on identity, loss, and the bonds of friendship.

Published May 19th by Katherine Tegen Books

Karen’s Thoughts:

A Sense of the Infinite is a true coming of age novel, there’s not a lot of plot but there is a lot of thinking and growing and figuring out who you are and where you fit into this world. It’s about friendship, finding it, losing it, and finding it again, though maybe with different people. It’s about mothers and daughters, this relationship complicated by the fact that Annabeth learns that she is a child born out of a college date rape. This news leaves Annabeth reeling with a sense of shame and insecurity that colors her entire view of self. It’s about love and hope and forgiveness. There is as we mentioned an abortion and it occurs without a lot of shame and guilt, a point of view we don’t often see in current discussions about abortion though statistics indicate that many people do in fact feel nothing but relief in terminating their unwanted or complicated pregnancies. It’s also about eating disorders, a subject that is handled well. But in the end, it’s really a moving portrait of Annabeth trying to find out who she really is and how she can move forward in ways after high school that will help her be happy and fulfilled. It’s a lot of heavy subject matter packed into the pages of a book, but in the end we find that Annabeth just might learn not only to love herself, but that she really is loved by the people around her. It is this look at relationships of all sorts that really make A Sense of the Infinite soar.

More Posts on Reproductive Rights at Teen Librarian Toolbox:

Take 5: Reproductive Rights in YA Literature

Abortion in YA Lit, Karen’s Take

The Spiritual Lives of Teens in YA Lit: A discussion of faith and science in Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande (guest post by Ramona Lowe)

When Ally Watkins and I put up our announcement that we were going to host a series discussing the spiritual lives of teens in YA lit, Ramona Lowe sent me a beautiful, long email saying “I hope you discuss Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande because . . . ” And I replied, “I think everything you have said here is wonderful and can be made into a post.” So she turned it in to a post sharing with you today why she is a huge fan of Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature. . . .

I’m a sucker for anything on television with cute kids, so I watched Lifetime’s Child Genius and found the family dynamics of the children competing in a Mensa challenge to be nothing sort of fascinating, if at times, disturbing.  During the portion of the competition that focused on astronomy, one mother quizzed her ten-year-old son in preparation and then asked what he would do if the judges asked him something that was contrary to their Christian beliefs. What?  I did a double take. Addressing the camera later, he says the Big Bang Theory is “stupid” and, since they are “Christians” they don’t believe anything other than God created the heavens and the earth. Before the quiz competition, he addressed the judges and audience with a statement of faith that God created the universe. The repeated claims by mother and son seemed to be expressing “I’m a Christian . . . and you’re not if you believe science.” (Fortunately, his questions did not include age or origin of the cosmos.) I wanted to immediately send that family a copy of Robin Brande’s Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature (Knopf, 2007) to make the point that Christians can believe in science.

When her fundamentalist church decides to push back against the teaching of evolution in freshman biology, Meena Reece isn’t exactly in the middle.  She’s been “kicked out” of the church that was her family’s life (and business since they sell insurance and most of their clients are church members) because she wrote a letter of apology to a fellow student targeted by members of her church youth group. After the boy survives a suicide attempt, Meena feels guilty and wants to do what her Christian faith expects and sends the letter without talking the idea over with her parents or her friends at church. The letter leads to the student’s parents suing the church and the parents of the youth group (minus Meena). In an instant, everyone in Meena’s life—including her parents—turn on her.

Meena isn’t excited for the start of school, but along with dodging the insults and bullying from her former friends, school brings her biology with Ms. Shepherd and her project partner, Casey Connor. Casey is a cute science nerd who idolizes Ms. Shepherd and fills Meena in on the teacher’s backstory, which is she is basically a brilliant scientist who teaches to give back.  Her love of science is evangelical:

“You are the people whose curiosity will uncover the riches of our universe. You are the ones who will show us what greatness the human mind is capable of. YOU are the people who will save us from ourselves.” (p. 9)

Aware that her parents would never let her go to a boy’s house to work on schoolwork (or, gasp, watch Lord of the Rings), Meena lets them think Casey is a girl. Her conscience bothers her, but her parents aren’t speaking with her since the incident and she lives in a state of permanent punishment (grounding and isolation). At the Connor’s house, Meena sees a different type of family: truly decent people who don’t go to church, and it makes her stop to think about what she believes and doesn’t believe anymore.

Mrs. Shepherd begins her unit on evolution, and Pastor Wells has once again primed the youth group for action.  Led by Teresa—whom Meena considers the master of mixing “church and sleaze”—the students turn their backs to Ms. Shepherd and demand equal time for instruction on intelligent design.  Meena sees the pastor in Teresa’s memorized speech, which calls evolution an “unproven theory.”  Ms. Shepherd, however, isn’t buying it. She maintains science is about facts, not philosophies, and goes right ahead with her lessons. Even when Pastor Wells himself visits the classroom and speaks with the principal cowering in the background, Ms. Shepherd holds firm.

Meena sees all the things she wishes she could be in Ms. Shepherd, namely, someone who can stand up to Pastor Wells and the church kids. Meena begins to take steps to own her life by working with Casey’s sister, Kayla to write a blog as Bible Grrrl  (who presents a very interesting take on the Parable of the Talents)  and eventually confessing her duplicity about Casey to her parents. Through everything that happens in this novel, Meena holds fast to her belief and love of God. It’s everything else that is confusing.  “I’d die if I didn’t have God. But I also believe in science. Does that make me a bad Christian?” (p. 151)

This book addresses head on the issue of evolution, with a big reveal as a sort of anticlimax near the end of the book. Meena, the Connors, and even Ms. Shepherd are well-drawn characters who express their struggles quite well.  The church folk do not fare as well. They are exclusively one-dimensional and their motivation isn’t godly—it’s based on a lust for power so their actions mostly ring hollow.  However, it’s Meena who is the voice of faith in this book and her journey makes this a very important book for the classroom library.

Meet Our Guest Blogger:

Ramona Lowe has a newly acquired PhD. Her Twitter biosays this: Unrepentant reader, newly-minted PhD, literacy advocate, expatriate Okie, NBCT, Comic Sans fan, love my boys Fergus and Sir Walter. She works for a school system in Texas where she is currently a Secondary Reading Intervention Specialist with Lewisville ISD (TX). She taught in the classroom for 25 years at Title I campuses, rural schools,  affluent suburban high schools and higher ed before moving into a role that lets her support teachers in their reading instruction. She’s also been at various times an atheist, an agnostic, a fundamentalist Christian, a mainstream Christian and a universalist. Romana love literature that features honest representation of spiritual issues and am excited about this topic.

Publisher’s Description:

I knew today would be ugly…

It’s the first day of high school for Mena, and already her world looks bleak: she’s an outcast, all her former friends hate her, even her parents barely speak to her anymore. And why? Because she tried to do the right thing. And then everything went wrong.

But can a cute, nerdy lab partner; his bossy, outspoken sister; and an unconventional, imaginative science teacher be just what Mena needs to turn her life around?

Or will the combination of all of them only make things worse?

As Mena is about to find out, it’s the freaks of nature who survive…

Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande was published in 2007 by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Want to join the discussion? Email Karen Jensen at kjensenmls at yahoo dot com

The Spiritual Lives of Teens in YA Lit: A Discussion

Introductory Post

YA Librarians Ally Watkins and Karen Jensen Talk the Spiritual Lives of Teens in YA Lit, part 1

Upcoming posts include Muslim Representations in YA Lit, Catholocism in YA Lit, Judaism in YA lit and more

Serving Full T.I.L.T.: Teen Brain Science 101

Our series continues with a brief look at the teen brain. Why? Well, first of all, it’s just really fascinating stuff. But those of us who serve teens need to understand where our patrons are if we are to structure environments, programs, and services that are appropriate to their developmental phase. Additionally, gaining a greater understanding of what is going on physiologically will help us advocate for teens by placing their behavior within the correct developmental context, and by knowing what to do about it.

We’ve known for years that teens’ brains aren’t done maturing until their early twenties, but just what that means, and what is going on as this maturation is happening, is becoming clearer thanks to the newer Functional MRIs (FMRI) technology. These discoveries are fascinating, and go a long way toward explaining the behavior, idiosyncrasies, and habits of the teen years.  Turns out, some of the seemingly illogical, frustrating, dangerous, and otherwise difficult behavior that we see from teens has a neurological basis.

Like a car with a hair-trigger accelerator and soft brakes

Laurence Steinberg, in his 2014 book Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence, uses the above phase to describe the interplay of different brain structures in the actions of teens. Like driving a car with a touchy gas pedal and bad brakes, teens are quick to act – sometimes in risky endeavors – but it takes a lot longer to regulate their behavior and slow down. We see this happen all the time, and now there is a neurological explanation for this behavior.

In the above analogy, think of the limbic system as the accelerator, and the prefrontal cortex as the brakes. The limbic system is made up of a group of brain systems closely connected with strong emotions. Fear, love, sexual excitement, anger – all of this happens in the limbic system. As you might guess, the limbic system in teen brains is highly active, and much more sensitive than that of an adult. In the teen years, the thrill seeking behavior we often see can be explained, in part, by this brain structure. Doing thrilling, dangerous, exciting things gives the limbic system the extra jolt that it is seeking.

What’s more, recent studies have shown that that jolt is even bigger for teens who are observed in these thrill seeking behaviors by their peers. So when teens act differently, brasher, louder, more daring when they’re with their friends than they do one-on-one, it’s not just that they want the social validation that they get from being exciting and brave, their brains are actually craving that encouragement and the limbic system rewards the brain when it gets it.

As all of this is happening, the prefrontal cortex, the logical brain, is in charge of moderating the behavior. It’s the brakes. But in the teen years, it’s still maturing with a long way to go. Teens understand what behavior is risky. They don’t think they’re invincible. But the part of their brains that should catch them and pull them back from dangerous behavior is not as quick as the part that’s shouting Go! Go! Go!

It’s a dangerous combination, and one that we need to be aware of and help guide teens through. That said, it’s a duality not without an evolutionary purpose.

Risk and Reward

The interplay of limbic system and prefrontal cortex incoordination explains some of the risky behavior, but not all of it, and the jolt to the limbic system seems a fairly short lived reward for all that risk. That’s because there’s more to it. The teen brain is now thought to be going through a similar level of growth to that of a young toddler. That’s immense!

Part of the task of the teenage brain is to make the most of its plasticity. It’s very malleable at this age, and that malleability is what will help teens grow into intellectually curious adults: it’s the activities and experiences during these teen years that will reinforce the neurological pathways that will remain into adulthood as others fall off through the process of synaptic pruning. Risk taking, or novelty seeking, is a way to stretch the brain – and the person – beyond the familiar, and to introduce new and thrilling activities that will serve the adult. Here, thrilling and novel could be anything from learning a new hobby or sport to exploring the world through travel, to learning a new language… or less productive and more dangerous pursuits. The point is that the brain craves newness at this age, and it has a good reason for it.

The brain in real life

All of this is well and good – it’s hardwired and there’s nothing we can do about it so why even bother trying to moderate teen behavior, right? Well, yes and no. The synaptic pruning mentioned above is happening as a result not just of old, unused pathways dying off. The pathways that are reinforced during this age are the ones that will stick around for a lifetime. This is why drug addiction that emerges during adolescence can be much more difficult to quash than those that are acquired in later years. This is also why adults (that’s you!) being involved in and guiding the lives of teens are so crucial. When we offer help, lead them toward library activities, remain steadfast as confidants, encourage them in positive pursuits, welcome them back when we see them, and generally reward the behaviors and attitudes that we hope to see more of, we are essentially tending the pathways that are going to survive the radical pruning that goes on in teen brains.

But don’t just take my word for it.

I’m a librarian by training and education, not a neurologist or psychologist. So let this brief overview pique your interest, but please learn about all of these amazing developments from the researchers and scientists who know far far more about this topic than I do. My resources for this article:

Sarah-Jayne Blakemore: The Mysterious Workings of the Adolescent Brain

National Geographic: Teenage Brains

Frontline: Inside the Teenage Brain

Laurence Steinberg, PhD Research articles and his excellent interview on Here & Now

Next week, the 40 Developmental Assets . . .

Serving Full T.I.L.T. series:

January 14 By the Numbers, making the case for teen services using basic demographic information (Karen Jensen)

January 21 Sarcasm, Spice and Everything Awesome: The Developing Teen (Rebecca Denham)

January 28 Teen Brain Science 101 (Heather Booth)

February 4 Asset Building 101, How using the 40 Developmental Assets can help us plan and evaluate teen programming (Karen Jensen)

February 11 Diverse teens, diverse needs (Eden Grey)

February 18 Sharing stories, how knowing and sharing the stories of our teens can help make the case (Heather Booth)

February 25 Empathy, remembering what it means to be a teen and how it makes us better teen services librarians (Heather Booth)

March 4 A Teen Services 101 Infographic (Rebecca Denham and Karen Jensen)

March 11 Talking Up Teens: Discussing Teen Services with Library Administration (Eden Grey)

YA Librarians Ally Watkins and Karen Jensen talk the spiritual lives of teens in YA lit, part 1

Karen Jensen:

A long time ago (sometime in December) in a galaxy far, far away (erm, not so much), two librarians met on Twitter asking a simple question: Why isn’t there more discussion about the spiritual lives of teens in YA literature? You see, Ally Watkins (more about her in a moment) and I couldn’t help but notice that although a great many of our teens (recent stats indicate 6 out of 10 teens are engaged in some type of weekly spiritual activity) go to some type of religious service or event, this is not the case in YA literature. There are, of course, exceptions. For example, in FAKING NORMAL by Courtney C. Stevens the teens discuss their faith and even go to church. In the upcoming EVERY LAST PROMISE by Kristin Halbrook the teens discuss their faith, with one teen even mentioning that another person goes to church but isn’t sure what they believe, which is a pretty accurate representation especially for this age group. In BURNING NATION by Trent Reedy, groups of people stop and pray in the midst of some difficult situations. These books are not about faith, but they integrate the faith of their main characters into the text in the same ways that many teens integrate their faith or faith quest into their daily living.

But by and large, there isn’t a lot of discussion of faith, especially if you move outside the realm of the evangelical Protestant faith. How, for example, we wondered is the Muslim faith represented in YA literature? What about Buddhism? Hinduism? Mormonism? Judaism? But these questions are bigger than Ally and I, in part because we don’t feel able to discuss faith representations outside of our own in any meaningful way. But have no fear, we have been in contact with some cool people who are joining the conversation. We’ll be hearing from them soon and throughout the year.

In this big push for diversity in YA lit, a good and necessary push, we would love to see a push for a better representation of the spiritual lives of teens in YA lit. I understand the hesitation, faith, religion and spirituality is deeply personal and varied. The topic of faith can be controversial, the basic premise of some faiths are the belief that they are right which makes everyone else wrong, which is a hard place to start from when trying to promote love and acceptance. But I remember being a youth ministry major at my conservative Christian college and thinking how much we would all benefit from understanding some of the basic tenets of faiths different than our own. And I wondered, for example, as I read last year’s LIKE NO OTHER by Una LaMarche if it was an accurate representation of that faith that I could/should add to my collection or if it was somehow flawed in it’s understanding of the Judaic faith which would be problematic. I don’t want materials in my collection that misrepresent or stereotype people of any faith anymore than I want materials that misrepresent or stereotype people of color or people on the spectrum or people with some type of disability. I want books with rich, fully developed characters and spiritual lives that expands my world view, but I don’t always know what to look for when making those evaluations any more than I know if the representation of epilepsy in 100 SIDWAYS MILES by Andrew Smith is accurate or harmful. That’s why we need to have conversations. Dialogue is good.

One of the things I really liked about LIKE NO OTHER was the way the main female character, Devorah, struggled with her religion and her family’s seeming view on women (they did not support college education for women) and how she tried to hold on to the basic tenants of her faith while also trying to assert her worth as a woman and her desire to get an education. As a feminist and a Christian, which depending on your denomination doesn’t always go together well, I completely understood this wrestling of dueling belief sets. I have sat through sermons where I have been told that I am worth so much less than a man and felt the heartache of rejection as I realized that some of the foundational beliefs of my faith were openly hostile towards me. But as I grew I learned that there were other churches that more openly embraced the idea that all people were created equal by a loving God who wanted the best for His children. I learned that the church you grow up in, the church of your parents, doesn’t necessarily have to be your church. Just as Devorah learns that there are nuances to her faith, I learned that there are nuances to mine. Don’t get me wrong, I still wondered about the accuracy of the faith as presented in LIKE NO OTHER, and it’s possible that someone is going to discuss that with us as part of this series because apparently it is not, but I completely identified with the faith struggle that Devorah goes through even though we are talking about different faiths. That is the beauty of story, it shows how we can be alike even when we may seem so different, it opens doors of understanding and weaves us together in our journeys.

Teens have spiritual lives. They ask big questions. They seek out answers and are trying to find out who they are and what they believe. Some teens go to church or synagogue or temple with their families and are strong adherents of that faith, some are questioning their faith, some will abandon it all together. Your faith, or choosing no faith, can inform who you are and what decisions you make. It seems like we are doing a disservice to teen readers by neglecting this part of their lives all together in the literature we write for them (or collect for them). This series will, we hope, help us discuss these issues more so that we can make sure that when we are buying books to put on our shelves, we’re also making sure that we have some good, authentic religious diversity on those shelves as well.

Ally Watkins:

Hi.

I’m a person of faith. It’s an integral part of me.

When I was a teenager, I was a person of faith. I was just learning how to be. And I was passionate about it. It was a way for me to explore who I was and who I was becoming, and it was and continues to be a way for me to grapple with the world around me.

One of Karen’s recent posts said that a study shows that 6 out of 10 teenagers claim some sort of faith or spirituality. When you’re a teenager, you’re figuring out who you are. You’re figuring out your identity, your sexuality, your preferences, your personality, and you’re figuring out what your religious life is going to look like or not look like.

That’s why I think it’s so important to look at what at faith and spirituality look like in the books that teens are reading. Are they seeing themselves reflected? Is it positive? Negative? Is it there at all?

I serve teens in the Deep South. Religion is a big part of life here. There are many kids that use my library who are in church or temple or synagogue or mosque three or four times a week.  And a lot of times, they’re not seeing that lifestyle reflected in what they’re reading. Like any other group of teens, religious teens deserve to be represented. The good, the bad, and the ugly. We’re hoping this series helps to shine a light on what that looks like across a wide swath of YA. We want this to be a discussion. We want you to tell us what you think, and what your teens think. We want to know why this is important to you. So let us know what you’re thinking, and if there are books you think we should read and talk about, be sure to tell us that, too.

Watch this space for reviews and discussion. We hope you’re as excited as we are.

Meet Ally Watkins, MLIS

I’m a youth services librarian in the metro Jackson, Mississippi area. I supervise a staff of 2 and the three of us provide services to kids from birth-18 at a midsized suburban library. On a typical day, I might be doing toddler storytimes, ordering materials for middle graders, or facilitating teen book club! I’ve worked in libraries for 5 and a half year. My reading habits are voracious, but I can stop anytime I want, really. (Guarantee: any time you’re reading this, I’ll have at least 2 books on my person.)  My favorite author is Melina Marchetta, and if she called me and asked me to be her friend, I would quit my job and move to Australia tomorrow. You can follow Ally on Twitter.
Previous posts on Faith and Spirituality and Teens:
Cause You Gotta Have Faith, part 2 (includes a book list)
And no, I really couldn’t think of a better title for this post. Sometimes titles are hard. 🙂

Serving Full T.I.L.T.: Sarcasm, Spice and Everything Awesome: The Developing Teen by Rebecca Denham

Teenhood is a confusing time for teens and the adults in their lives.  Adolescents who never before questioned authority are suddenly abusing sarcasm, questioning every authority figure in sight and dependent on their friends rather than parental figures for emotional support.  There are biological changes impacting teens physiologically and social development factors that influence the chaotic cocktail of teen emotions.  Let’s face it, teenhood is hard. So today as part of our Serving Full T.I.L.T. series we’re going to be discussing basic teen development.

They Travel in Packs

It can be overwhelming for a group of teens to descend on a library, but this herd-like behavior is perfectly natural from a developmental standpoint.  Teens, especially younger adolescents, use social groups to define themselves, their values and their behavior.  This desire to be part of a group may seem at odds with the inherent adolescent desire for independence, but it is actually quite reasonable when viewed from the teen perspective.  Teens use their relationships to explore the world outside their family unit and to identify both similarities and differences between themselves and their parents.  The teenage years are when adolescents try on a variety of roles in the exploration of identity.

Children learn a great deal by role play, also known as pretending or imaginary play.  Extrapolate the importance of pretending to adolescence.  Adolescence is all about becoming an individual which means that a teen needs to be something more than just their parents’ child; more than who they have been so far.  However, teens also know that they are not quite ready for adulthood and therefore use their social groups to explore different roles they may take as adults.  It is through relationships with their peers that teens test and ultimately finalize their morals and values.

While the desire to be part of a group is critical for young teens, many older teens replace their social group of early adolescence with more intimate friendships or romantic relationships.  I’ve noticed that, in general, the older the teen is the more likely they are to travel in pairs than packs.  However, some studies have shown that teens from minority groups face greater pressure to rely on peer groups throughout adolescence for a sense of belonging.  One of the great balancing acts of library services for teens is to make sure that both groups of teens and individual teens are welcome in the library.  Successful library services for teens serve individuals as well as social groups by offering a variety of programs, services and materials.  YALSA, YART, and many blogs run by youth services librarians have literally hundreds of ideas, guidelines and tools for serving teens in libraries.

Teens, Romance and Drama

Adolescent romance is often viewed with benign indulgence or dismissal by the adults in a teenager’s life but these relationships hold an amazing amount of influence over teenagers’ mental and emotional health as well as their adolescent development.  Romantic relationships, positive or negative, account for some of the strongest emotions teens experience during the adolescent years.  Romantic relationships of the teenage years also lay the foundation for adult romantic relationships.  The nature of romantic relationships in adolescents is heavily influenced by culture, gender, and the individual but, generally speaking, romantic relationships for younger adolescents are characterized by higher stress and lower emotional support than those of older teens.  Similar to the prior attachment to peer group, as older teens transition to adulthood the individual’s primary attachment figure shifts from parent to romantic partner.

Romance in the teenage years serves another purpose beyond the rush of hormones, these relationships allow teens to expand and practice communication and interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence and intimacy skills that are necessary for a well-adjusted adulthood.  However, adolescent romance, as with any relationship, can have a dark side.  According to a 2007 study, 61% of teens involved in romantic relationships reported being made to feel bad or embarrassed about themselves.  A recent survey by the CDC found that 10% of high school students reported physical victimization at the hands of their romantic partner.  One study found that 29% of the young women surveyed who had ever been in a relationship said they had been pressured to have sex or to engage in sexual activity they did not want.  A 2013 study found that LGBTQ teens experience significantly high rates of all types of dating violence compared with heterosexual youth.  Some of the statistics about adolescent romance are disturbing which is why it is important that we have conversations with our teens about healthy and unhealthy relationships.  These conversations must be done in a supportive, non-judgemental way if you want your library teens to stick around.  You should also have resources available for teens so that they don’t have to talk directly to you if they don’t want to – often the questions that teens most need to ask are the ones they are embarrassed to air.

Self-Esteem is Kind of a Group Effort

Peer groups are one of the most powerful influencing factors when it comes to a teenager’s self-esteem.  The peers who are so crucial to adolescent social development and development of personal identity are also integral in influencing a teen’s self worth.  As a librarian, you cannot control how teens treat each other outside of the library but you can influence their behavior by treating every teen with compassion and respect and setting a standard of behavior for any teens in the library or attending library programs.  Make your library a No Bullying Zone, form a GSA, get to know the teens in your library and let them know that you care about their well being.

Being a teenager is complicated and difficult but if you try to see their perspective and make them feel welcome you will truly begin to understand the near-alchemical mysteries of the developing teen.

Next week, as part of our Serving Full T.I.L.T. series, Heather Booth talks with us about the teenage brain.

Footnotes:

[1] Developing Adolescents: A Reference for Professionals by the American Psychological Association – http://www.apa.org/pubs/info/brochures/develop.aspx

[2]A Child’s Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play by Vivian Gussin Paley

[3]Challenges in studying minority youth. Spencer, Margaret Beale; Dornbusch, Sanford M. Feldman, S. Shirley (Ed); Elliott, Glen R. (Ed), (1990). At the threshold: The developing adolescent. , (pp. 123-146). Cambridge, MA, US: Harvard University Press, x, 642 pp.

[4] http://www.ala.org/yalsa/

[5] http://www.txla.org/groups/yart

[6] Teen Librarian Toolbox, Lunanshee’s Lunacy, YA Books and More, The Green Bean Teen Queen – there are TONS of online resources for Youth Services Librarians

[7] Larson RW, et al. (1999). The emotions of romantic relationships: Do they wreak havoc on adolescents? In: Furman W, Brown BB, Feiring C, editors. The development of romantic relationships in adolescence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; p. 19-49.

[8] http://www.headspace.org.au/media/326676/romanticrelationships_adolescent_romantic_relationships_why_are_they_important_headspace_evsum.pdf

[9] Furman W, Wehner EA. (1997). Adolescent romantic relationships: A developmental perspective. In: Shulman S, Collins A, editors. Romantic relationships in adolescence: New directions for child development. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass; p. 21-36.

[10] http://www.actforyouth.net/resources/rf/rf_romantic_0707.pdf

[11] http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/teen_dating_violence.html

[12] Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice and Statistics, Intimate Partner Violence and Age of Victim, 1993-1999 (2001). American Bar Association Juvenile Justice Center.

[13] Dank M, Lachman P, Zweig JM, Yahner J. Dating Violence Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth. Journal of Youth and Adolescence. 2013. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10964-013-9975-8.

Meet Our Guest Blogger:

Rebecca Denham is a Young Adult Librarian at heart who masquerades as an Assistant Branch Manager by day at a very busy library somewhere in the metropolitan wilds of Texas.  When not distracted by management duties Rebecca is reading, reviewing YA literature and coming up with fun, innovative programming with diverse teen appeal. When not writing and reviewing for her blog Rebecca volunteers her time for the following committees: Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers (YALSA), 2015-2016, Best Fiction for Young Adults (YALSA), 2013-2014, 2014-2015,Youth Engagement (YALSA), 2013-2014,Spirit of Texas Reading Program HS (YART), 2011-2015, Teen Book Con Planning Committee, 2011 to present, Book Reviewer for VOYA, December 2011 to present,A4YA Reviewer for SLJ, Febraury 2014 to present. You can follow her on Twitter.

Resources for Adults Working with Teens:

www.advocatesforyouth.org

www.cdc.gov

www.findyouthinfo.gov

www.glsen.org

www.loveisrespect.org

Resources for Teens

www.bornthiswayfoundation.org

www.dosomething.org

www.lovegoodbadugly.com

www.loveislouder.com

www.loveisrespect.org

www.teenshealth.org

Serving Full T.I.L.T. series:

January 14 By the Numbers, making the case for teen services using basic demographic information (Karen Jensen)

January 21 Sarcasm, Spice and Everything Awesome: The Developing Teen (Rebecca Denham)

January 28 Brain Science 101 (Heather Booth)

February 4 Asset Building 101, How using the 40 Developmental Assets can help us plan and evaluate teen programming (Karen Jensen)

February 11 Diverse teens, diverse needs (Eden Grey)

February 18 Sharing stories, how knowing and sharing the stories of our teens can help make the case (Heather Booth)

February 25 Empathy, remembering what it means to be a teen and how it makes us better teen services librarians (Heather Booth)

March 4 A Teen Services 101 Infographic (Rebecca Denham and Karen Jensen)

March 11 Talking Up Teens: Discussing Teen Services with Library Administration (Eden Grey)