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GETTING REAL . . . A LITTLE ANYWAY by Terry Trueman (and giveaway)

Earlier this month, I wrote about Terry Trueman’s Printz Honor Award winning title, Stuck in Neutral.  Tomorrow, Trueman releases a sequel entitled Life Happens Next.  Today, he writes about his sequel and is offering YOU a chance to win a signed copy.  We are giving away 5 signed copies, find out how to enter at the end of this guest post.
It’s especially nice to be a guest blogger for Teen Librarian’s Tool Box. I’d like the thank Karen and the other librarians for giving me this chance to reach out to Teen and Youth services librarians. My subject for this blog is ‘back to reality’. And by this I mean that as an author of what is usually termed ‘realistic’ fiction or, more disparagingly, ‘problem novels’ I’ve been more than a little surprised by the depth and breadth of movement away from realistic fiction towards dystopian, fantasy, vampire/virgin/wizard/werewolf etc books and series that have taken over the world of works being marketed for teens and young adults. I know that this is not a complete takeover and that realistic fiction still holds some part of the publishing world but I have to admit that the conversations I’ve seen on the YALSA book discussion site, which I rejoined recently after several years’ absence, seem overwhelmingly geared away from the kind of books I write.
Life Happens Next by Terry Trueman
Releases August 21st from HarperTeen

There could be a bit of sour grapes in this observation of course. When my first novel STUCK IN NEUTRAL was published in June of 2000, I believe either the second or third Harry Potter, THE GOBLET OF FIRE was also published that year. I’m not sure that J.K. Rowling would have been willing to trade her royalty check for my Printz Honor Award, I’m not sure I’d have been willing to make that trade back then either. Over the dozen years since then, however, I believe that J.K. did reasonably well, helped by her great talent as a writer and by her stories about a boy living under the stairs in the real world. After Rowling came the vampire stuff, TWILIGHT etc. my understanding is that these stories, at least at the start were about virginal teenage love where everything was sexual except sex itself. And next came HUNGER GAMES. Somewhere along the way, stories about teens living in the real world, today, striving to deal with issues of identity, meaning, and their realistic world of problems and issues got nudged (or sometimes slammed) onto the back burner of the stove in the basement (good one huh?).
There is nothing wrong with fantasy, nothing wrong with adventure, nothing wrong with any character driven story told with the ringing sounds of compassion and emotional truth and maybe even a bit of thematic significance towards helping people think about their own lives, values and dreams.

I mention this topic simply because tomorrow, August 21, 2012 my first novel in over four years will be released nationwide in hardbound. LIFE HAPPENS NEXT is a sequel to STUCK IN NEUTRAL. The story, as the title suggests, tells about what happens next in the life of Shawn McDaniel the protagonist in both books. At the end of STUCK IN NEUTRAL the reader has no idea whether Shawn will survive the next five minutes, much less long enough see his 15th birthday . . well, he does both. LIFE HAPPENS NEXT is realistic fiction. It’s a problem novel. It has no vampires, wizards, werewolves, teenaged girls running around in a really horrible future having arrows shot at them—it just tells the story of a kid who everyone thinks is a vegetable but who in fact is a bright, great spirit who loves and longs to be loved in return. I so hope you enjoy it and feel that it merits hand-selling to your teen readers. On behalf of all my author friends who write stories set in what can be considered ‘reality’ thanks.

Please visit www.terrytrueman.com any time to find out where I am, and what I’m doing. You can also find me on Twitter, Facebook, and Linked-in.

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The Power of Reading: Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman

Sometimes life has a moment of kismet.  Just yesterday one of those moments happened.  As I sat at the Reference Desk a mom walked up and asked me where “the classics” were.  She wanted her child, a daughter, to only read the classics so that she would increase her vocabulary.  So we talked.

I told this mom that there was value in all reading.  Reading, you see, helps the reader develop their world view, it helps them learn problem solving and interpersonal relationship skills, and it helps them develop empathy.  In fact, that is one of my favorite parts of reading: sometimes, you take a walk in someone else’s shoes and you understand things you never would have before.  Which brings me to the book Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman.

I was a younger teen librarian when Stuck in Neutral came out, a college student myself.  I didn’t have a lot of worldly experience.  I didn’t know a lot of people who weren’t exactly like me.  I didn’t know anyone like Shawn McDaniel.  And I didn’t know that I needed to think about what it meant to be someone like Shawn.

Today, my world is very different.  I am older, a mother, and an aunt.  If you read here, you know that I have 3 nephews who fall on the Autism spectrum.  They are high on the spectrum and have low to no communication skills, especially if you are someone who doesn’t spend a lot of time with them and come to understand who they are and what they are trying to say.  They, like Shawn, can’t tell you what they think and feel.  They are prone to meltdowns, born out of frustration because they want so desperately for you to understand.  And there are people who look at people like my nephews and shake their head in disgust, wondering why they “get away” with the behavior they see.  They don’t understand that there is more going on in this situation than just a misbehaving kid.  They don’t know what it is like to be a prisoner in your home, afraid of the meltdown, celebrating the smallest little victories, learning how to read the signs.

It was reading Stuck in Neutral that first made me begin to realize that there were people living lives that I couldn’t even begin to understand.  You see, by all accounts, Shawn McDaniel appears to be a vegetable.  He can’t move, he can’t talk, and know one knows what – if anything – is going on inside of him.  And without this knowledge, Shawn’s father thinks he is going to do him a favor and end his life.  Shawn McDaniel has Cerebral Palsy.

“My life is like one of those “good news-bad news” jokes. Like, “I’ve got some good news and some bad news—which do you want first?” I could go on about my good news for hours, but you probably want to hear the punch line, my bad news, right? Well, there isn’t that much, really, but what’s here is pretty wild. First off, my parents got divorced ten years ago because of me. My being born changed everything for all of us, in every way. My dad didn’t divorce my mom, or my sister, Cindy, or my brother, Paul—. He divorced me. He couldn’t handle my condition, so he had to leave. My condition? Well, that brings us to the guts of my bad news.” – Terry Trueman, Stuck in Neutral
Stuck in Neutral is told from Shawn’s point of view as he tries to find a way, any way, to let his father know that he is in there and that he does not want to die.  And readers turn page after page while wondering what the outcome will be:  Will Shawn survive?
Stuck in Neutral is an example of quality story telling that does the one thing that we need stories to do: it helps us take a walk in someone else’s shoes and expand our worldview.  For these pages, we come to understand more of what it would be like to live in a world where we can’t control our bodies, where we can’t communicate, and where people think that maybe we don’t have the same value that they do.
For years, I booktalked in the local schools and this was one of my go to booktalks.  Teens ate it up because they could – for just that one minute booktalk – wonder what it would be like to know that your parent thought your life wasn’t worth living.  This is one of those classics that we need to keep re-introducing to teens because it excels not only at storytelling, but because it lets us have that brief moment to walk in someone else’s shoes, a pair of shoes so completely different than our own.  And with current statistics indicating that today 1 out of 5 children have some type of health or behavioral issue, these type of stories are more important than ever.  Our teens are living in worlds much more complex than the ones we grew up with.  They are going to school with students that have Autism, ADHD, OCD, Depression and more (sadly, so much more).  Books like Stuck in Neutral help them to unzip their skin and begin to look at the people around them who may be different as still being human and having worth.  And that is the power of reading.  And that mom, she was glad she had a moment to talk with me and let her daughter pick out whatever she wanted to read.
From now until August 21st, you can read Stuck in Neutral for FREE.  That’s right – FREE.  Author Terry Trueman is coming out with a sequel, Life Happens Next, on August 21st.  Be sure to check back here on August 20th for a guest post from author Terry Trueman and a chance to win 1 of 5 signed copies of Life Happens Next.  To read Stuck in Neutral for free, please visit Epic Reads at http://www.epicreads.com/blog/read-stuck-in-neutral-for-free/
Stuck in Neutral has won the following awards and honors: Books for the Teen Age 2001 (NYPL), Books for Youth Editor’s Choice 2000 (Booklist), Top 10 Youth First Novels 2000(Booklist), 2001 Best Books for Young Adults (ALA), 2001 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Readers (ALA), and 2001 Michael L. Printz Honor Book
Please visit our Autism & Libraries section to learn more about children and teens on the spectrum, literature and the ways that libraries can better bring the two together.