Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Rethinking I Kissed Dating Goodbye

Trigger Warning: Sexual Abuse and Violence are discussed in this post

ikisseddatinggoodbyeWhen I first began working with teens, both in the library and in the church, Josh Harris wrote a book called I Kissed Dating Goodbye. At the time, he was 21 years old and was deeply wrapped up in what is referred to as purity culture. Purity culture is a church movement that suggests that physical intimacy, when taken to the extreme even hand holding and kissing, should be avoided until marriage. It goes so far as to suggest that teens and young adults who engage in physical intimacy become soiled, used goods.

One of the more popular metaphors of this time involved young girls and chewed up gum. A virgin, you see, is like a shiny new stick of gum which you desire. But once she engages in physical intimacy, she is now a chewed up piece of gum, spit out in disgust and left on the ground. No one wants that piece of chewed up gum picked up off of the sidewalk. And yes, this metaphor was used primarily against girls. Men, as you may recall, are hardwired to desire sex and we can’t blame them or hold them accountable for their urges. I hope you read that sentence as dripping with the sarcasm in which it is intended.

Washington Post: ‘I Kissed Dating Goodbye’ told me to stay pure until marriage. I still have a stain on my heart.

In the midst of the #MeToo movement, it’s worth noting that childhood sexual abuse and sexual abuse in general occurs at alarmingly high rates in the evangelical church, and many feel that purity culture are factors in this abuse. The hashtag #ChurchToo was adopted by survivors of sexual abuse in the church to discuss this specific issue. Purity culture, you see, stems in part not just from Christian views of chastity, but from complementarian views on the roles of men and women in the church. When women are viewed as less than and needing to be submissive to men, as the complementarian view holds, it’s easier to justify and look away as they are abused. Though complementarianism is certainly not the only issue involved here because people of all genders and all sexual orientations are abused at alarmingly high rates in churches all over the world. Authoritarianism, power structures and an unwillingness to talk openly and frankly about sex, sexual education and sexual violence are also contributors to this issue.

“I no longer agree with its central idea that dating should be avoided. I now think dating can be a healthy part of a person developing relationally and learning the qualities that matter most in a partner.” Source: https://relevantmagazine.com/god/faith/josh-harris-is-kissing-i-kissed-dating-goodbye-goodbye/

Over the years, Josh Harris has begun to rethink his book I Kissed Dating Goodbye. In fact, he has recently asked his publisher to stop publishing new copies of the book and has worked with some others to produce a documentary on his book and how he came to understand that it was harmful. You can read his current statement on I Kissed Dating Goodbye here.

Josh Harris on why he renounces his book and previous dating advice

Today as I was driving into work, I listened to a story on NPR about this book. At the time of this book’s release, I was uncomfortable with the book’s message. I began working in public libraries at the age of 20 and as a survivor of sexual abuse and a recent teen myself, I found the book to be unrealistic. I began hearing people speak out in earnest against this book perhaps three or four years ago, with many of those speaking out against it talking about how the message had destroyed their self-esteem, had made them vulnerable to sexual abuse, and how it had caused them so much guilt and confusion about their own feelings at a formative time that it affected the ways they bonded and formed intimate relationships.

It’s been roughly 21 years since I Kissed Dating Goodbye was first published and we have a generation of people sharing with us now how much this book hurt them in their formative years. It’s a stark reminder of the power of books, both for good and for ill, to shape and influence our teens and young adults. The truth is, now just as we did then, if this book came out today we (YA librarians) would probably buy and add this book to our collection as long as there were not reviews stating that it was harmful or medically inaccurate. The other truth is that books about religious belief and teachings often get a pass that scientific writings do not. I say this as a Christian with a degree in youth ministry as well as a librarian, but a lot of people hide behind religion to espouse harmful beliefs and it is hard to question or challenge them because freedom of religion and that which we hold sacred and all of that. Faith and spirituality is a complicated realm and looking at the journey of the history of this book highlights the many complicated issues that we traverse as we try and provide access, respect beliefs, nurture our adolescents, and analyze quality, authority and bias in religious publications. It is not an easy issue for librarians to grapple with.

As I have followed this story over the last couple of years, I have thought often of the times a teen came in and asked for this book and I handed it to them. Was I complicit in their harm? What are the roles and limitations of librarianship as we come to learn that a book like this has been actively implicated in doing harm to the very people we are working so hard to serve? I haven’t seen a lot of discussion about this book and libraries, not a lot of reflections or reactions to this call to cease publication of it, perhaps in part because it’s old enough that most libraries no longer have it on their shelves. Though that may be the case, I think that the life cycle of I Kissed Dating Goodbye is a good case study for us to look at and consider. The journey of this book and the push back against it reminds us that putting a book in the hands of a teen can have lifelong implications, and they aren’t always positive.

Whatever we can learn from this story, please re-consider holding this book in your library collections. If the author no longer stands by this book, should we?

MakerSpace: Paintpouring, chemistry in the art room

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Welcome to one of the messiest yet coolest art processes out there: paint pouring. Paint pouring involves, well, pouring paint and just kind of allowing art to happen. It’s a cool process because you don’t have strict control over the outcome. It creates a kind of marbled looking art piece. I have done this with kids and teens and it’s pretty cool. In fact, The Teen has a canvas she has done hanging in her room and you can see her end result at the end of this post.

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Supplies:

  • Acrylic paints (Michael’s sells multi-color packs for $8.00)
  • Pouring medium of your choice (we used good old fashioned glue)
  • Craft sticks
  • Plastic cups (and a lot of them)
  • Hair dryer
  • Tablecloth to protect your work surface
  • Pan, box, or other container to put your canvas in (I recommend aluminum baking pans)
  • Items to hold up your canvas for the pouring process (we used some of our plastic cups)
  • Trash bags (to dispose of your waste immediately)
  • A canvas, piece of wood or some other element that you are going to paint
  • Some people wear gloves (we were reckless rebels)

Additional Paint Pouring Resources

Acrylic Pouring for Beginners

13 Paint pouring hacks

Step 1: Prepare your work area

This is a messy, messy activity so the first thing you are going to want to do is prepare your work space. I recommend tablecloths on the floor and on the table. Put them everywhere! Cover everything. I mentioned it was messy, right?

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Then, set out your aluminum pans which will provide an additional layer of protection. These are essential because you are going to be literally pouring paint and you need something to catch the paint that runs off the canvas. You want something with high edges that you don’t mind throwing away. You can use extra plastic cups (or blocks of wood) to hold your canvas up inside the tray because you want to be able to pour your paint all over the canvas and allow it to run off. Your initial set up will look something like the picture above.

Step 2: Prepare your paint

You are going to use multiple cups for this process. This is also where your paint pouring medium comes in and I recommend reading this good discussion about pouring mediums before proceeding.

First, you will pour a single paint into a single cup and add a bit of your paint pouring medium (formula below). In this case we are using old fashioned liquid white glue to make this activity more cost effective because I’m working on a library budget. You can also buy something that is actually called a “pouring medium” at most craft stores. In these cups, you want to use a craft stick and mix your paint and pouring medium together really well.

Formula: You want a glue to paint ratio of about 50-50. So fill the cup 1/3 full with paint, 1/3 full with glue, and leave yourself 1/3 of the cup empty to have room to mix.

You don’t have to add any water, but you can add a few drops of water to help your mixture flow better if you would like. But very few drops. Spoiler alert: this is chemistry in action!

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After you have mixed your initial single paints, you will pour them all into one cup. This is called a “dirty pour” mixture. You can drag a craft stick through it, but don’t blend them together. This is just to get the paints to mingle a bit inside the cup.

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Step 3: Pouring your paint

Right after creating your dirty pour, flip your cup over onto the canvas. You can literally set the cup upside down on the canvas. When you remove the cup, the paint will then begin pouring down your canvas. You can gently kind of lift corners of the canvas to help direct the paint flow if you would like, but the idea is to let gravity do its thing and see what happens.

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Step 4: Releasing air bubbles

It is possible that you will have air bubbles, which is where the hair dryer comes in. A gently applied heat from a distance will help release those air bubbles. If you do so gently, you can also use the hair dryer to help get the paint flowing in certain directions as well.

This is what The Teen’s final canvas looked like:

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Step 5: Stand back, let it dry, and clean up your mess

This is a fun art project, but it’s messy and takes a while to dry. If you have the space to set canvases aside so that they can dry over night, then I definitely recommend this activity. No one is taking their project home on the day of this event if you do this in a library or makerspace.

When we were done I just threw everything into the trash, so this craft is by no means environmentally friendly. The one exception is that I did save the aluminum pans to be reused.

Taking your canvas to the next level

After you canvas has dried, and I would give it some solid days of dry time, you can do things like add letters cut with a vinyl cutter to put quotes to kind of embellish your canvas. This step is not necessary, however, because the final project is beautiful on its own.

We also used this process to decorate ornaments, so you are definitely not limited to using a canvas (which can be kind of expensive if you have to buy a lot of them).

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303 Best Acrylic Pouring Inspiration images in 2018

 

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Instagram Challenge

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Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse introduces Miles Morales, a half African-American/half Puerto Rican teen from Brooklyn, and the limitless possibilities of the Spider-Verse, where more than one can wear the mask.  Spider-Verse celebrates diversity and individuality, providing an opportunity for teens to imagine they or someone they admire is a Spider-Hero.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Instagram Challenge — “What Makes You Different Is What Makes You Spider-Man.”

Sony Pictures challenges teens to create and document their very own Spider-Hero from their own universe/neighborhood in celebration of the upcoming release of Spider-Man™: Into the Spider-Verse on December 14. Teens can make an image or video, up to 30 seconds long, of what their Spider-Hero would look or sound like and post it on Instagram with the following hashtags #SpiderVerse and #everydayspiderhero.

Additionally, any teen librarian who would like to promote the Challenge can contact Rachel Breinin at rgbreinin@gmail.com, who can send them free bookmarks and great raffle prizes including Spider-Verse headphones, beanies and backpacks!

 

On PAPER GIRL and Anxiety: a guest post by author Cindy R. Wilson

41KnHEWIJoL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_I have to be honest. I didn’t expect Paper Girl to be my first published novel. In fact, I wasn’t even trying to query it or find an editor to publish it. I wanted to write big, explosive stories with strong heroes and heroines who were nothing like me. Those kinds of stories you get excited to see on the big screen when they become movies. I guess that’s mostly because my own life was kind of boring in comparison—after all, living with constant anxiety makes living in the real world with real people doing real things terrifying.

Which was partly why I wrote Paper Girl. I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder and PTSD when I was in my 20s. I’d been anxious before that, but this brought it to a whole new level. A kind of I-don’t-want-to-leave-my-house level, sort of like the heroine in Paper Girl. Zoe hasn’t left her house in over a year because of her anxiety, and I could relate to that entirely. I spent a lot of years being afraid to go places, meet new people, and push myself outside of my comfort zone because it was just too scary. But I didn’t want that for my life. As a way of working through my own anxiety, I wrote Paper Girl. For once, I wanted to write a heroine like me, socially awkward, shy, maybe even a little dorky. I wanted to see a girl like that become the hero of her own story. So I made it happen.

Zoe has to work every single day to recover from anxiety and it was wonderful for me to write a character that many of us can relate to. We all have our own struggles and hardships on big and small scales, but it’s great to see victories in tiny steps and paths we all have to take in various ways. I feel as though the characters of Paper Girl are some of my most relatable because we can all understand being afraid of something but wanting so badly to be on the other end of it and living our lives.

I still write big, explosive stories, but somehow (through a twist of events, which is a whole other story), Paper Girl is my debut YA. And once I adjusted to that fact, it actually made me really happy. This story is real and raw, and it’s something people can relate to. I get a chance to reach readers I might never have reached by simply sharing my story. So now, even though I love those big explosive stories and even write them here and there, I can’t say how much I believe in writers sharing their real struggles. There are so many readers out there who share the same issues and challenges and it’s nice to know we’re not alone. It’s also nice to know that even with those socially awkward, dorky traits, we can still be the hero of our own story, and I think that’s exactly what Paper Girl shows.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Cindy R. WiCindy R. Wilsonlson is a YA speculative and contemporary author whose own struggles with anxiety disorder inspired her to write a story with a real-life topic readers can relate to. She lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and loves using Colorado towns and cities as settings for her stories. She’s the mother of three girls who provide plenty of fodder for her YA novels.

When she’s not writing, you can find her hiking some of Colorado’s tallest peaks, reading, or listening to playlists she’s created for her next story idea.

website: www.cindyrwilson.com

twitter: @CindyRWilson

facebook: @AuthorCindyRWilson

Instagram: @CindyRWilson

 

Amanda’s favorites of 2018

Yes, it’s list time. What follows are my favorite 2018 books that I reviewed and excerpts of my reviews. I pretty much exclusively read contemporary fiction, which my list reflects. These are the YA books that most stuck with me this year.  Even though I’m a voracious reader, I’m sure I missed a lot of great titles this year. I always enjoy reading the many lists that crop up this time of the year, but I also always want more variety and to hear from more people. So here’s my list—will you share yours with us too? Leave us a comment or hit me up on Twitter where I’m @CiteSomething. 

 

 

you'll miss meYou’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone by Rachel Lynn Solomon (ISBN-13: 9781481497732 Publisher: Simon Pulse Publication date: 01/02/2018)

I burned through this book, riveted by the girls’ relationship, which is constantly in flux. The alternate narration really lets us get in the heads of both girls and see them both really struggle with all the new things that they are dealing with. Let’s not forget that in the middle of all this there is their mother, whose symptoms are getting rapidly worse. They have to witness her decline, worry about what her future holds, and that’s a constant very real reminder for everyone of what will be ahead of Adina at some point.

I loved the large role religion plays in this family’s life. They are Jewish and often speak Hebrew. Their mother grew up in Tel Aviv and their father is American. Tovah is quite religious and Adina is not. Both speak and think about their religion and culture a lot—whether that’s because they are embracing it or rebelling against it.

This book is heartbreaking in all the best ways. The girls are not always likable (and we all know I hate that word as a judgment, right? That it’s OKAY to be unlikable, because being humans and containing multitudes means we’re not always the best version of ourselves?), they make hurtful choices, they keep things to themselves when what they really need is to lean on each other. This is a complex look at identity, futures, faith, family, and what it means to truly live your life. A brilliant and provocative debut. I look forward to more from Solomon. (Full review here.)

 

 

is this guyIs This Guy For Real?: The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman by Box Brown (ISBN-13: 9781626723160 Publisher: First Second Publication date: 02/06/2018)

Brown takes us back to Kaufman’s youth, showing his interest in Mighty Mouse, Elvis, and wrestling. Kaufman loved to imitate his heroes and always rooted for the bad guy. We see how he became a party entertainer at a young age, his interest in drumming, and his growing interest in subverting expectations and screwing with reality. Kaufman believed in being in character offstage as well, a move that helped him confuse the heck out of people who eventually could never tell if he was putting on an act or being serious. Much of the story is focused on Kaufman’s wrestling career, with Brown taking us through Kaufman arch-nemesis Jerry Lawler’s backstory, too. Throughout it all, we see Kaufman as not just a larger-than-life character who wrestled women and befuddled viewers, but as a sensitive guy into yoga and transcendental meditation. Kaufman, who blurred reality and enjoyed blowing people’s minds, loved playing the negative, hated characters. It was just more interesting to him.

Fans of the absurd will enjoy this book, whether they’ve heard of Kaufman or not. For an older audience, for anyone who looks at this and can immediately picture Kaufman lip-syncing to the Mighty Mouse theme, or Tony Clifton, or Latka Gravis, this look at Kaufman will be a real treat. (Full review here.)

 

 

elenaThe Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza by Shaun David Hutchinson (ISBN-13: 9781481498548 Publisher: Simon Pulse Publication date: 02/06/2018)

After Elena confirms she really can heal people (unsurprisingly, it’s a little hard for her to just accept what happened), things grow far more complicated than she could have anticipated. The voices (coming from such places as a girl on a tampon box, a My Little Pony, a skeleton, and more) tell her she needs to heal as many people as possible. And on the surface, that seems like a good idea. But for every healing she does, people are raptured—and not just in some 1:1 ration; literally hundreds of people could go missing for each healing. Suddenly, Elena has BIG questions to grapple with. Can she help someone right in front of her knowing others will disappear to an unknown place? Is she being used? Do things happen for a reason or do they just happen? Does nothing matter? Does anything matter? Does EVERYTHING matter? How are things connected? Are people even worth saving (that question will sound familiar to fans of Hutchinson)? Does healing people fundamentally change them? Why should you decide who or what matters? It’s heavy philosophical stuff, which readers of Hutchinson will have come to expect.

As always, Hutchinson populates his story with a diverse group of characters. Elena is Cuban American and bisexual. Her best friend, Fadil, is Mulim and possibly aromatic and/or asexual (he’s still figuring it out). The big picture themes include mental health/suicidal ideation (and actual suicide), bullying, identity, supportive relationships, and how your choices change you and the world around you. Hutchinson superfans will be thrilled to see cameos of characters from his previous books. This look at making impossible choices and handling moral conflict is already one of my favorites for 2018 (and, as of writing this, I’m still back here in 2017). Riveting, thoughtful, weird, brilliant, provocative, and heavy—just what I have come to expect from Hutchinson. (Full review here.)

 

 

poet XThe Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (ISBN-13: 9780062662804 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 03/06/2018)

15-year-old Dominican American Xiomara is used to being judged, harassed, and viewed only as a body with curves, not just from the male gaze, but even from her own mother.She’s close to exactly two people in life, her twin brother, whom she lovingly just calls Twin, and their best friend, Caridad. They are the only ones who really know anything about her, and even they don’t get to know it all. Xiomara’s mother goes to Mass daily and is extremely disappointed in Xiomara’s disinterest in church, confirmation classes, and religion. She’s very strict,but Xiomara has found ways around her rules to try to live the life she wants. She joins a poetry club at school while pretending to be at confirmation classes. She also begins seeing Trinidadian Aman, a kind, compassionate, music-loving classmate who is always ready to hear one of her poems. Her mother makes it clear that her sexuality is something to be repressed, to be ashamed of, to be denied, but Xiomara is having all of these first feelings for Aman, and not even the scolding voice of her mother in her head can override her beginning to make her own decisions and define her body and her sexuality on her own terms. But she has to keep all of this secret from her mother—just like Twin has to keep his relationship with a boy a secret. Everything begins to unravel when Xiomara’s mother sees her kissing Aman, and then further escalates when she finds Xiomara’s poetry notebook. Learning how to trust and how listen to her own voice—to find power not just in words but in the power of her words—is a rough road for Xiomara, but it’s also one filled with wonder, joy, and revelations.Powered by Xiomara’s strong but vulnerable voice, this intense, poignant, and extraordinary novel is a must for all collections. (Full review here.)

 

 

blood water paintBlood Water Paint by Joy McCullough (ISBN-13: 9780735232112 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 03/06/2018)

17-year-old Artemisia understands the way the world works: women are a beauty for consumption by men. There are many expectations for women and few freedoms. She understands that girls are prey, that they are seen as things and possessions. Artemisia, ostensibly an apprentice to her painter father, though clearly far more skilled than he, begins to paint biblical women she knows intimately from her mother’s stories, knowing a man could never capture the truth of the story the way a woman could. Her mother’s stories made clear the heavy burden of the inescapable male gaze, but they also made clear Artemisia’s (and all women’s) right to be outraged, to act, to push back, to speak up. These woman from her mother’s stories, Judith and Susanna, come to be her strength and solace when Artemisia is raped by Agostina Tassi, her painting tutor. Artemisia tells her father of the rape and they take Tino to trial. But, of course, it is not Tino on trial, but Artemisia’s virtue. 

Both the stories from Artemisia’s mother and Artemisia’s own story ask the readers to bear witness, to see the truth, to hear the voices, to understand the strength in the stories. The stories are the weapons, the armor, the refuge, and the map. This intensely passionate and powerful exploration of women’s lives, stories, truths, and power is a masterpiece. (Full review here.)

 

 

after the shotAfter the Shot Drops by Randy Ribay (ISBN-13: 9781328702272 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication date: 03/06/2018)

Bunny and Nasir repeatedly approach each other to try to mend their friendship, but each time, Nasir feels like he’s betraying Wallace, that Bunny has plenty of people in his corner, and plenty of resources and opportunities, but Wallace has nothing and no one. Wallace eventually puts Nasir—and Bunny—in an impossible situation, one that will test everyone’s loyalty, and the already high stakes of this story really ramp up. Readers will race through the final chaptersWe’ll Fly Away by Bryan Bliss to see what happens to all three of these complicated and conflicted characters.

 

Told through an incredibly effective alternation narration, readers get to see deep inside the minds of both Bunny and Nasir. who show that the situation is much more complicated than just being about two best friends driven apart by Bunny’s choice to change schools. Gripping, suspenseful, and complex, this story of basketball, friendship, courage, desperation, and choices will appeal to a wide audience. A must-have for all collections.  (Full review here.)

 

 

 

fly awayWe’ll Fly Away by Bryan Bliss (ISBN-13: 9780062494276 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 05/08/2018)

As I read, as I watched events unfold, I kept thinking, “NO, NO, NO, NO,” even though I knew something terrible had to happen to get Luke on death row. It all feels so hopeless.

 

In Luke’s letters from death row, we see weird glimpses of hope that we could never see in the main narrative. I say “weird” because the kid is on death row. His letters are full of pain and anger, but also resiliency, and he works through so much in his letters to Toby.His letters give us a real insight into his mind during this time. It is, I would guess, virtually impossible for almost all of us to really imagine what it would be like to be on death row. To be waiting. To watch people you have come to know put to death. I think it can be easy for people to look at people in prison, on death row, and forget their humanity. It can be easy to write people off, to expect a punishment, to not see them as humans, to not understand what led them there, to not think about redemption or the worth of a life or what the death penalty really means. Bliss makes you think about all those things. He makes the reader understand that people are not just defined by one thing, but have entire lives and stories that led them to the act or acts that landed them in prison. He asks readers to see their complex lives and care about them. The standout characters, including the nun who routinely visits Luke in prison, are deeply affecting and beg readers to really pay attention to their lives and their choices. Though devastatingly sad, this is also a beautiful look at friendship between two boys—something we don’t always see much of in YA. This emotional, powerful, and unflinching look at friendship, loyalty, and the justice system is an absolute must for all collections. Not an easy read, but an important one. (Full review here.)

 

 

girl made ofGirl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake (ISBN-13: 9781328778239 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication date: 05/15/2018)

 

When Hannah says that Owen raped her at a party they all were at, Mara is devastated. She knows her brother would never do that. But she also knows Hannah would never lie about that. She turns to their small group of friends, including both Hannah and Owen, as she tries to process what happened. Mara has her own reasons for fiercely thinking that “believe girls and women” is a good policy (beyond it just being a good policy). She’s held on to a secret for years, a secret that ruined her relationship with Charlie. Mara and Owen’s parents believe Owen when he says he didn’t rape Hannah. They urge Mara to understand the need to be united on this, to not talk to anyone about it, to make sure they all have the story straight. But Mara is sick of not talking about things. She stands by Hannah, especially when Hannah comes back to school and is repeatedly greeted with, “Hey, slut, welcome back.” Mara, Charlie, and Hannah all have truths to tell. They rely on each other, and the support of girls (particularly in their feminist group at school, Empower) to find the strength to not be silenced. 

 

This masterpiece is gutting. It’s not just the characters, the dialogue, and the writing are all wonderful—they are—but that the story is so real. So true. So common. Maybe not the specifics, but the general story. This is in incredibly important read about the aftermath of a sexual assault, about consent, rape culture, family, friendship, and feminism. A powerful, heartbreaking, but ultimately uplifting read. (Full review here.)

 

 

 

deadendiaDeadEndia: The Watcher’s Test by Hamish Steele (ISBN-13: 9781910620472 Publisher: Nobrow Ltd. Publication date: 08/07/2018)

 

Really, this book had me at trans protagonist, graphic novel, talking dog, girl with anxiety disorder, and hell portal. It’s like all my favorite things together in one place. If only they had also obsessively eaten donuts and the dog was a dachshund and not a pug! Barney, who is trans, has recently left home, after it was made clear that he wasn’t welcome there. His friend Norma Khan hooks him up with a job as a janitor at the Pollywood amusement park where she works as a guide at a haunted house (a job she likes because there is a script). It’s the least popular attraction there, in the area referred to as Scare Square. Barney figures it will be a good place to stay while he’s homeless, and it maybe would have been, if it hadn’t turned out that the haunted house was also a portal to a bunch of demons. Before long, Barney, Norma, and Barney’s dog, Pugsley, are constantly battling demons through shifting timelines and dimensions. The planes are described as a “big, interdimensional, supernatural cake,” and it’s hard to know who is mostly harmless, who may be helpful, and who eventually becomes bad in a another timeline. When a demon possesses Pugsley early on, he retains the ability to speak, even after they manage to exorcise the demon. Norma has known about the demons for ages, but for Barney, this is all so new and odd at an especially new and odd time in his life.

 

Complicated emotions, strong friendship, demons, and plenty of LGBTQIA+ representation. All that and bright, bold illustrations AND great writing? Total win. Sweet, funny, and enjoyably, delightfully weird. (Full review here.)

 

 

dariusDarius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram (ISBN-13: 9780525552963 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 08/28/2018)

Though Darius is often awkward and monosyllabic, we get to know him much better when he is in Iran. Darius gets to know himself much better during this time. He becomes friends with Sohrab, a charismatic neighbor boy who draws Darius out of his shell, inviting him to play soccer and helping guide him through life in Yazd. Fairly quickly, Darius feels such closeness with Sohrab, feeling like they really understand each other. Sohrab is easy and comfortable with Darius, so open and affectionate. Though it is never discussed, it is easy to read their relationship as something more than friends, or something that could potentially be more than friends. Though their time together is short, Sohrab and his friendship appear to be life changing for Darius, showing him that he can connect with other people and that there is more to him than just a bullied kid who is always the object of jokes and cruelty.

 

The book has a lot of other things going for it. Darius’s depression is handled well. It’s noted over and over that he has been encouraged to not feel embarrassed or ashamed for having depression, that it’s just the way his brain chemicals work. He talks about being medicated for years, about having tried various medications, about side effects, like weight gain, and we routinely see him take his medication. His mother talks to him about the fact that her parents will have a different, less understanding attitude toward depression, which does come up once they are in Iran. It is refreshing to see mental illness depicted in such a matter of fact manner—it’s just one part of Darius. Darius also helps guide readers through Persian culture by explaining cultural ideas, tradition, and Farsi words as the story unfolds. Khorram manages to make this feel like part of the natural flow of the narrative. This quiet story will resonate with readers who feel they don’t fit in, for whatever reason, and can appreciate the profoundness of finally feeling like you can connect with someone. A heartfelt, complicated, and thoughtful look at identity, family, and unexpected connections set in a place, and within a culture, we rarely see in YA. A great addition for all collections. (Full review here.)

 

 

dream countryDream Country by Shannon Gibney (ISBN-13: 9780735231672 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 09/11/2018)

The stories are loosely tied together (in the sense that we’re following the line of one family and returning to the same place over and over), but read like short stories, complete on their own. It feels especially profound, then, when we reach Angel’s portion of the narrative and understand that it is she who has been telling all of these stories as a way to help make sense of her lineage, history, and ancestors. Through her revelations about her writing, readers see the choices she made in telling these stories, her search for explaining people and their actions, her desire for wholeness, for neat intertwining, for being able to know what these experiences were like. The title, Dream Country, takes on new significance through Angel’s eyes, and with Angel’s own story. This powerful and well-written story examines deep human emotions, the desire and fight for freedom, power, and immigrant experiences. Perhaps shamefully, I managed to make it to 40 without knowing much of anything at all about Liberia, but this book has changed that. Gibney’s complex look at one family, told through a wide scope, is moving and unlike anything I have ever read before in YA. This is one of the best books I’ve read this year. Don’t miss it. (Full review here.)

 

 

 

 

the unwantedThe Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown (ISBN-13: 9781328810151 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication date: 09/18/2018)

Brown provides a very brief overview of the Arab Spring, starting this story with teenage boys writing graffiti (“Down with the regime”) on a wall in Dara’a, in southern Syria, then the arrest and torture of those boys, which sparks a protest for their freedom. Of course, this is just one of many inciting incidents, as the anger is far deeper and more widespread, with Syrians unhappy with Assad’s rule and the corrupt government. The government retaliates against the protesters, with the growth of the protest and violence leading to civil war. Syrians flee to Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, living in tent cities, with friends and family, or in communities in the hills. Violence intensifies when jihadists, including ISIS, join the fight. Brown followers various refugees’ journeys as they escape any way they can. We see people fleeing on foot, on boats, with smugglers, some of them successfully escaping, but many thousands and thousands dying in the process.

 

It was no surprise to me that Brown so adeptly captures the emotions and weight of this experience. Though, as noted, this book is slight, it is a thorough and affecting look at the Syrian refugee crisis, particularly for younger readers who may just be looking for a quick and basic understanding of what has been going on. The full-color illustrations are dynamic and powerful, whether showing crowded boats, near-empty deserts, or the anguish on the refugees’ faces. This somber, poignant, and deeply sympathetic look at Syrian refugees is as moving as it is informative. A solid addition for all collections. (Full review here.)

 

 

hearts unHearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith (ISBN-13: 9780763681142 Publisher: Candlewick Press Publication date: 10/09/2018)

While Louise never wavers in her quest to educate others, she has a lot of room to grow as a friend. Her alleged best friend, Shelby, is largely absent in the book, usually busy working and not really understood well by Louise, who has trouble seeing beyond herself sometimes. She has a lot to learn about friendships, dating, and understanding others. But these flaws make her real, and interesting. Readers see her grow and change as she makes more connections with people in her new town and stands up for what she believes in and what she knows is right. Mvskoke words are sprinkled throughout the next, with a glossary appended as well as an important author’s note. This book also accomplished the near-impossible: it made me miss high school for two seconds, reminding me of my love for writing for the school newspaper and the frustrations and community that can come with that. This is a nice mix of romance, routine high school drama, and more serious topics like racism, bullying, and becoming more socially aware. Sure to inspire interesting classroom discussions, this is a must-have for all collections.  (Full review here.)

 

Home Away From Home: a guest post by author Merrie Destefano

915ooJY2t-LWe all have our shattered years, a time when things go wrong, horribly wrong. For me, it all began in grade school, when my parents got divorced. My life fell into a dark spiral after that. Both of my parents became alcoholics and, then, when I was sixteen, my father—who was my favorite person in the world—died of a heart attack.

To say that I needed a place of escape during those years would be an understatement. I needed a place of survival. Fortunately, I found my refuge in two places: books and art.

And, more often than not, I could be found in the local library.

The public library in my hometown was magical. It stood three stories tall and overlooked the river. The bottom story seemed to be made entirely of glass—even on gloomy Midwestern days, the space filled with shafts of sunlight and colorful art exhibits. As beautiful and captivating as the first story was, it was only the beginning of the treasures this building held. Each floor was stacked high with books. There were long tables and chairs where you could take each volume for a test drive. There were long windows that looked out onto the river or the tall brown brick buildings of downtown.

And when you turned the page of a book, there were countless vistas you could look out upon. I journeyed back in time and to the future; I went to Mars and the Moon; I visited a future culture where illegal books were burned; I visited a past culture where the weak were eaten by the strong; I met a man whose body was covered in tattoos that each told a different story; I befriended hobbits, elves, and wizards.

I came to believe that my current life situation could be brightened by a handful of poetic words.

I also learned that I had stories and poetry of my own.

That library forever changed my life. I can still feel its touch, as if its fingerprints were pressed so tightly around my soul that it left indelible impressions.

The Rockford Public Library on 215 N. Wyman opened in 1903 and was the second oldest library in Illinois. It was torn down in October, 2018.

It took a part of my heart with it.

Yes, it will be rebuilt, yes, there are new dreams and visions being born, even in the midst of the ashes. But as someone who loved that library as much as a dear friend, I need to mourn its loss. I also need to remember everything I learned there and I need to count my blessings.

For many years, I was priveledged to walk through snow and rain and dark days, all the way from my red brick tenement building, all the way across the bridge and through downtown, all the way to other worlds—all because the Rockford Public Library was there.

Waiting for me.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

51iwpYZMEOL._UX250_Merrie Destefano’s latest novel, Valiant, is out on December 4! ‘The Valiant was supposed to save us. Instead, it triggered the end of the world.’

Author Bio:

Novelist Merrie Destefano writes dark stories with a thread of hope. Her novels include Valiant, Lost Girls, Shade, Fathom, Afterlife, and Feast, and her work has been published by Entangled Teen and HarperCollins. Her next YA Science Fiction novel, Valiant, releases on December 4, 2018.

 

Author Links:

Author Website: www.merriedestefano.com

Author Blog: http://merriedestefanoauthor.blogspot.com/

Author Tumblr: http://merriedestefano.tumblr.com/

Author Twitter: @merriedestefano

Author Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Merrie-Destefano-127750623906184/

Author Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/816280.Merrie_Destefano

Author Photo:

Photo by Mark Mendez

Post-it Note Reviews of Elementary and Middle Grade Books

IMG_3631Now that I work in an elementary library, I’m reading a lot more titles for younger readers. It’s been super interesting to me to see what the students (grades K-5) check out. I’ve spent so long completely in the world of YA and am glad for an opportunity to work with younger readers and to read all of the great picture books, chapter books, and middle grade books I’ve missed out on!

Post-It Note reviews are a great way to display books in your library or classroom, a way to let kids recommend their favorite titles without having to get up in front of everyone and do a book talk, and an easy way to offer a more personal recommendation than just the flap copy offers.

All summaries are from the publishers. Transcription of Post-it note review under the summary.

 

 

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Positively Izzy by Terri Libenson

Award-winning comics creator and author of the bestselling Invisible Emmie Terri Libenson returns with a companion graphic novel that captures the drama, angst, and humor of middle-school life. Perfect for fans of Raina Telgemeier, Jennifer Holm, and Victoria Jamieson.

Middle school is all about labels.

Izzy is the dreamer. There’s nothing Izzy loves more than acting in skits and making up funny stories. The downside? She can never quite focus enough to get her schoolwork done.

Bri is the brain. But she wants people to see there’s more to her than just a report card full of As. At the same time, she wishes her mom would accept her the way she is and stop bugging her to “break out of her shell” and join drama club.

The girls’ lives converge in unexpected ways on the day of a school talent show, which turns out to be even more dramatic than either Bri or Izzy could have imagined.

(POST-IT SAYS: Kids are hungry for graphic novels, so this will circulate well despite its somewhat lackluster intertwining of story lines. I didn’t see the twist coming and wonder if some readers will even understand it. Good messages, uneven book. Ages 9-13)

 

 

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No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen

For fans of Wendelin van Draanen and Cynthia Lord, a touching and funny middle-grade story about family, friendship, and growing up when you’re one step away from homelessness.

Twelve-and-three-quarter-year-old Felix Knutsson has a knack for trivia. His favorite game show is Who What Where When; he even named his gerbil after the host. Felix’s mom, Astrid, is loving but can’t seem to hold on to a job. So when they get evicted from their latest shabby apartment, they have to move into a van. Astrid swears him to secrecy; he can’t tell anyone about their living arrangement, not even Dylan and Winnie, his best friends at his new school. If he does, she warns him, he’ll be taken away from her and put in foster care.

As their circumstances go from bad to worse, Felix gets a chance to audition for a junior edition of Who What Where When, and he’s determined to earn a spot on the show. Winning the cash prize could make everything okay again. But things don’t turn out the way he expects. . . .

Susin Nielsen deftly combines humor, heartbreak, and hope in this moving story about people who slip through the cracks in society, and about the power of friendship and community to make all the difference.

(POST-IT SAYS: An outstanding book. This look into how easily homelessness can happen will be revelatory to many. A deeply empathetic story, this book deserves a wide readership because of its message and its solid, engaging writing. Ages 10-14)

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Sheets by Brenna Thummler

Marjorie Glatt feels like a ghost. A practical thirteen-year-old in charge of the family laundry business, her daily routine features unforgiving customers, unbearable P.E. classes, and the fastidious Mr. Saubertuck who is committed to destroying everything she’s worked for.

Wendell is a ghost. A boy who lost his life much too young, his daily routine features ineffective death therapy, a sheet-dependent identity, and a dangerous need to seek purpose in the forbidden human world.

When their worlds collide, Marjorie is confronted by unexplainable disasters as Wendell transforms Glatt’s Laundry into his midnight playground, appearing as a mere sheet during the day.
While Wendell attempts to create a new afterlife for himself, he unknowingly sabotages the life that Marjorie is struggling to maintain.

Sheets illustrates the determination of a young girl to fight, even when all parts of her world seem to be conspiring against her. It proves that second chances are possible whether life feels over or life is over. But above all, it is a story of the forgiveness and unlikely friendship that can only transpire inside a haunted laundromat.

(POST-IT SAYS: An almost unrelentingly sad look at loss, grief, responsibility, and death. Marjorie’s mom is dead, her dad is depressed (and doing zero parenting), and her only interactions are with a ghost. I really liked this, but it’s sad and slow. Ages 10-13)

 

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Dactyl Hill Squad (Dactyl Hill Squad Series #1) by Daniel José Older

It’s 1863 and dinosaurs roam the streets of New York as the Civil War rages between raptor-mounted armies down South. Magdalys Roca and her friends from the Colored Orphan Asylum are on a field trip when the Draft Riots break out, and a number of their fellow orphans are kidnapped by an evil magistrate, Richard Riker.

Magdalys and her friends flee to Brooklyn and settle in the Dactyl Hill neighborhood, where black and brown New Yorkers have set up an independent community–a safe haven from the threats of Manhattan. Together with the Vigilance Committee, they train to fly on dactylback, discover new friends and amazing dinosaurs, and plot to take down Riker. Can Magdalys and the squad rescue the rest of their friends before it’s too late?

(POST-IT SAYS: Alt-history with dinosaurs? Yes, please. An awesomely unique adventure that examines racism, slavery, and the Civil War era. Action-packed and full of great characters. Ages 9-13)

 

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Courage by Barbara Binns

For fans of Jason Reynolds and Kwame Alexander, a poignant and timely novel about race, class, and second chances.

Ever since T’Shawn’s dad died, his mother has been struggling to keep the family afloat. So when he’s offered a spot on a prestigious diving team at the local private swim club, he knows that joining would only add another bill to the pile.

But T studies hard and never gets into trouble, so he thinks his mom might be willing to bear the cost… until he finds out that his older brother, Lamont, is getting released early from prison.

Luckily, T’Shawn is given a scholarship, and he can put all his frustration into diving practices. But when criminal activity increases in the neighborhood and people begin to suspect Lamont, T’Shawn begins to worry that maybe his brother hasn’t left his criminal past behind after all.

And he struggles to hold on to the hope that they can put the broken pieces of their damaged relationship back together.

(POST-IT SAYS: Though a bit too long with an ending that’s too cheerful and tidy, overall this is a complex and emotional look at trauma, gangs, racism, policing, and second chances. Tension-filled with lots to discuss. Ages 10-14)

 

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Lu by Jason Reynolds

Lu must learn to leave his ego on the sidelines if he wants to finally connect with others in the climax to the New York Times bestselling and award-winning Track series from Jason Reynolds. 

Lu was born to be cocaptain of the Defenders. Well, actually, he was born albino, but that’s got nothing to do with being a track star. Lu has swagger, plus the talent to back it up, and with all that—not to mention the gold chains and diamond earrings—no one’s gonna outshine him.

Lu knows he can lead Ghost, Patina, Sunny, and the team to victory at the championships, but it might not be as easy as it seems. Suddenly, there are hurdles in Lu’s way—literally and not-so-literally—and Lu needs to figure out, fast, what winning the gold really means.

Expect the unexpected in this final event in Jason Reynold’s award-winning and bestselling Track series.

(POST-IT SAYS: A powerful and inspiring end to this series. Plenty of good messages (that don’t feel heavy-handed) about integrity, community, and healing. This whole series has wide appeal. Satisfying conclusion to a great series. Ages 10-14)

 

 

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Lucky Luna by Diana Lopez

Luna Ramos has too many primas to count, but there’s one cousin that’s always getting her into trouble, Claudia. After locking her in the bathroom at their other cousin’s quinceañera, Luna is grounded for a month. Her punishment? Not being allowed to wear her signature hats, which she uses to hide her birthmark, a streak of white in her otherwise dark hair. The only thing that gives Luna the tiniest bit of satisfaction is knowing that Claudia is also being teased because she has a big nose.

Eventually, Luna discovers that Claudia was not being teased after all. Every joke Luna heard was actually directed at her! Luckily, Claudia comes to her rescue, standing up for Luna by telling the other kids to leave her alone. That’s when Luna realizes the true meaning of her grandmother’s wise advice — “blood is thicker than water.” She and Claudia may not like each other, but they are still primas. And it’s the job of primas to stand up for each other.

 

(POST-IT SAYS: Notable particularly because of the focus on relationships with cousins (as friends, enemies, gossips, and defenders). A fun look at a large Latinx family. Realistically flawed Luna learns important lessons about family. Ages 9-12)

 

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Meet Yasmin! by Saadia Faruqi, Hatem Aly

Meet Yasmin! Yasmin is a spirited second-grader who’s always on the lookout for those “aha” moments to help her solve life’s little problems. Taking inspiration from her surroundings and her big imagination, she boldly faces any situation, assuming her imagination doesn’t get too big, of course! A creative thinker and curious explorer, Yasmin and her multi-generational Pakistani American family will delight and inspire readers.

(POST-IT SAYS: Four brief stories make up this first installment about curious and spirited Yasmin. The charming art will draw in readers. Backmatter includes Urdu words, facts about Pakistan, and more. Ages 5-8)

 

 

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Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome

In this poignant story eleven-year-old Langston overcomes bullies and loneliness, discovers the public library and the poet Langston Hughes, and makes a new home his own.

Langston’s mother has just died when he and his father leave rural Alabama to make a new home in Chicago’s South Side of the 1940s. It’s lonely in the small apartment with just his father and at school he’s bullied.

But Langston’s new home has one fantastic thing. Unlike the whites-only library in Alabama, the Chicago Public Library welcomes everyone. There, hiding out after school, Langston discovers another Langston, a poet whom he learns inspired his mother enough to name her only son after him.

A moving story of one boy’s experiences during the Great Migration.

 

(POST-IT SAYS: A quick but deep read about grief, identity, and the power of books and libraries. Beautiful and poignant, this book is as hopeful as it is sad and bittersweet. Ages 9-13)

 

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Crush (Berrybrook Middle School Series #3) by Svetlana Chmakova

Following the overwhelming success of AWKWARD and BRAVE, Svetlana Chmakova’s award winning Berrybrook Middle School series continues with its next installment – CRUSH!

Jorge seems to have it all together. He’s big enough that nobody really messes with him, but he’s also a genuinely sweet guy with a solid, reliable group of friends. The only time he ever really feels off his game is when he crosses paths with a certain girl… But when the group dynamic among the boys starts to shift, will Jorge be able to balance what his friends expect of him versus what he actually wants?

(POST-IT SAYS: This is about so much more than just a crush. It’s about friendship, gossip, popularity, and figure out how to not be a bystander to wrongdoings. Jorge is a really good dude. All three books in this series are excellent. Ages 10-14)

 

Post-it Note Reviews of Recent YA Releases

IMG_3631I do my best to get a LOT of reading done, but can’t even begin to attempt to read all the books that show up here. Even if I quit my library job, I still couldn’t read them all.  I read just about every free second I have—sitting in the car while waiting for my kid, on my lunch breaks at work, sometimes even while I’m walking in the hall at work. A lot of that kind of reading isn’t super conducive to really deep reading or taking many notes. Or maybe I’m reading in my own house, but while covered in sleeping dachshunds, or while trying to block out the noise of kids playing. I might not get around to being able to write a full review, but I still want to share these books with you, so here are my tiny Post-it Note reviews of a few titles. I also do these posts focusing on books for younger readers. It’s a great way to display books in your library or classroom, a way to let kids recommend their favorite titles without having to get up in front of everyone and do a book talk, and an easy way to offer a more personal recommendation than just the flap copy offers.

All summaries are from the publishers. Transcription of Post-it note review under the summary. 

 

 

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Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

In kindergarten, Jarrett Krosoczka’s teacher asks him to draw his family, with a mommy and a daddy. But Jarrett’s family is much more complicated than that. His mom is an addict, in and out of rehab, and in and out of Jarrett’s life. His father is a mystery — Jarrett doesn’t know where to find him, or even what his name is. Jarrett lives with his grandparents — two very loud, very loving, very opinionated people who had thought they were through with raising children until Jarrett came along.

Jarrett goes through his childhood trying to make his non-normal life as normal as possible, finding a way to express himself through drawing even as so little is being said to him about what’s going on. Only as a teenager can Jarrett begin to piece together the truth of his family, reckoning with his mother and tracking down his father.

Hey, Kiddo is a profoundly important memoir about growing up in a family grappling with addiction, and finding the art that helps you survive.

(POST-IT SAYS: Didn’t intend to read this in one sitting—but I did. A powerful, raw, and important look at addiction and survival. I couldn’t put it down. Ages 12-18)

 

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Mike by Andrew Norriss

MEET FLOYD. He’s a tennis star. Possibly good enough to win Wimbledon one day.

 

MEET MIKE. He’s… different. Apart from anything else, Floyd seems to be the only one who can see him. But Mike must have appeared for a reason. And finding out why is perhaps the most important thing Floyd will ever do…

(POST-IT SAYS: Sometimes it’s hard to listen to your inner voice. It’s harder to ignore when it manifests as a hallucination/imaginary friend. Unique approach to facing pressures and mental health. A fast read about family, friendship, and identity.)

 

 

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Dig by A. S. King

Acclaimed master of the YA novel A.S. King’s eleventh book is a surreal and searing dive into the tangled secrets of a wealthy white family in suburban Pennsylvania and the terrible cost the family’s children pay to maintain the family name.

The Shoveler, the Freak, CanIHelpYou?, Loretta the Flea-Circus Ring Mistress, and First-Class Malcolm. These are the five teenagers lost in the Hemmings family’s maze of tangled secrets. Only a generation removed from being Pennsylvania potato farmers, Gottfried and Marla Hemmings managed to trade digging spuds for developing subdivisions and now sit atop a seven-figure bank account—wealth they’ve declined to pass on to their adult children or their teenage grandchildren. “Because we want them to thrive,” Marla always says. What does thriving look like? Like carrying a snow shovel everywhere. Like selling pot at the Arby’s drive-thru window. Like a first class ticket to Jamaica between cancer treatments. Like a flea-circus in a double-wide. Like the GPS coordinates to a mound of dirt in a New Jersey forest. As the rot just beneath the surface of the Hemmings’ precious suburban respectability begins to spread, the far-flung grandchildren gradually find their ways back to one another, just in time to uncover the terrible cost of maintaining the family name.

With her inimitable surrealism and insight into teenage experience, A.S. King explores how a corrosive culture of polite, affluent white supremacy tears a family apart and how one determined generation can save themselves.

(POST-IT SAYS: The best surreal (of course) book you’ll read this year about trauma, potatoes, white supremacy, and dysfunctional families. My brain hurts.)

(For a longer review, check out this post from Karen.)

 

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Inventing Victoria by Tonya Bolden 

In a searing historical novel, Tonya Bolden illuminates post-Reconstruction America in an intimate portrait of a determined young woman who dares to seize the opportunity of a lifetime.

As a young black woman in 1880s Savannah, Essie’s dreams are very much at odds with her reality. Ashamed of her beginnings, but unwilling to accept the path currently available to her, Essie is trapped between the life she has and the life she wants.

Until she meets a lady named Dorcas Vashon, the richest and most cultured black woman she’s ever encountered. When Dorcas makes Essie an offer she can’t refuse, she becomes Victoria. Transformed by a fine wardrobe, a classic education, and the rules of etiquette, Victoria is soon welcomed in the upper echelons of black society in Washington, D. C. But when the life she desires is finally within her grasp, Victoria must decide how much of herself she is truly willing to surrender.

(POST-IT SAYS: Fascinating read about reinvention. Set in 1880s Baltimore/DC. Essie goes from a housekeeper and daughter of a prostitute to a socialite. What happens when she can’t conceal her past? Excellent descriptions, immensely readable.) 

 

 

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What Momma Left Me by Renée Watson

Serenity is good at keeping secrets, and she’s got a whole lifetime’s worth of them. Her mother is dead, her father is gone, and starting life over at her grandparents’ house is strange. Luckily, certain things seem to hold promise: a new friend who makes her feel connected, and a boy who makes her feel seen. But when her brother starts making poor choices, her friend is keeping her own dangerous secret, and her grandparents put all of their trust in a faith that Serenity isn’t sure she understands, it is the power of love that will repair her heart and keep her sure of just who she is.

Renée Watson’s stunning writing shines in this powerful and ultimately uplifting novel.

(POST-IT SAYS: Heavy book–faith, abuse, suicide, murder, and grief. SO powerful and well-written. Somehow about trauma, coping, and almost unrelenting tragedy but manages to feel hopeful about the future.) 

 

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High: Everything You Want to Know About Drugs, Alcohol, and Addiction by David Sheff, Nic Sheff

Just Say Know!  With drug education for children more important than ever, this nonfiction book draws on the experiences of the NY Times bestselling father/son team of David and Nic Sheff to provide all the information teens and tweens need to know about drugs, alcohol, and addiction.

From David Sheff, author of Beautiful Boy (2008), and Nic Sheff, author of Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines (2008), comes the ultimate resource for learning about the realities of drugs and alcohol for middle grade readers.
This book tells it as it is, with testimonials from peers who have been there and families who have lived through the addiction of a loved one, along with the cold, hard facts about what drugs and alcohol do to our bodies. From how to navigate peer pressure to outlets for stress to the potential consequences for experimenting, Nic and David Sheff lay out the facts so that middle grade readers can educate themselves.

(POST-IT SAYS: Kind of scattered look at addiction and drugs—it’s hard to cover “everything.” Mix of personal and factual helps it feel a BIT less dry. Non-judgmental mental health emphasis but less successful than I hoped this book would be.)

Bill Konigsberg the Proud Papa Bear

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This past weekend NCTE was hosted in Houston, Texas. I did not get to go but as is my custom, I followed the hasthag on Twitter to see what books were being shared and what nuggets of wisdom I could learn from attendees. I was, however, shocked and saddened to learn about one speaker at a panel on book censorship who made openly homophobic comments. Author Bill Konigsberg was also on this panel and he spoke out fiercely against this hateful speech. He shares the text of his speech on his blog; it is powerful and moving and I hope that everyone will read it: https://billkonigsberg.com/2018/11/19/proud-fierce-papa-bear-the-speech/.

As Konigsberg points out, not only was this panel speakers comments born out of a place of bias and hate, they are factually incorrect. For example, the panel speaker insists that the number of LGBTQAI+ teens is incredibly small, citing older statistics. Current research suggests that in actuality, less than half of all teens identify as straight and cis-gendered and slightly more than 50% of teens identify in some way as being LGBTQAI+.

As someone who works with kids and teens, I feel it is important that we value and honor all teens. Bill Konigsberg said it best when he ended this blog post stating, “Where I draw the line is when she advocates against my children.” The kids that come into our libraries become are our children and we have a professional obligation to honor and serve them.

Please note: I have chosen to honor Konigsberg’s example and not name the panel speaker. I know that others have taken a different approach and feel that it is important to name this panel speaker to hold them accountable and I respect that approach as well.

Graphic Novels involving the Refugee Experience a guest post by Kristyn Dorfman

According to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, there are 68.5 million forcibly displaced people in the world and of that number 25.4 million are refugees. The majority of these refugees are coming from the South Sudan, Afghanistan and Syria. Over half of these refugees are under the age of 18. Many are escaping persecution or civil war and are fleeing for their lives. The impact is felt worldwide and while many countries are accepting refugees many more, like the current United States administration, are drastically reducing the numbers they take in. Many people have risked their lives to be caught in a limbo.

 

Many writers are taking into account that this is an issue experienced by many and should be shared out to the world. Graphic Novels are a popular medium by which to provide this information and help put a human face to something that seems intangible to some readers. There are several graphic novels and graphic memoirs depicting the refugee experience. Here are some of those titles with blurbs from the Publisher.

 

Adult

513JR8lzdGL._SX359_BO1,204,203,200_The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

This beautifully illustrated and emotional story is an evocative memoir about the search for a better future and a longing for the past. Exploring the anguish of immigration and the lasting effects that displacement has on a child and her family, Bui documents the story of her family’s daring escape after the fall of South Vietnam in the 1970s, and the difficulties they faced building new lives for themselves.

 

Threads: From the Refugee Crisis by Kate Evans

In the French port town of Calais, famous for its historic lace industry, a city within a city arose. This new town, known as the Jungle, was home to thousands of refugees, mainly from the Middle East and Africa, all hoping, somehow, to get to the UK. Into this squalid shantytown of shipping containers and tents, full of rats and trash and devoid of toilets and safety, the artist Kate Evans brought a sketchbook and an open mind. Combining the techniques of eyewitness reportage with the medium of comic-book storytelling, Evans has produced this unforgettable book, filled with poignant images—by turns shocking, infuriating, wry, and heartbreaking.

 

Freedom HospitalFreedom Hospital: A Syrian Story by Hamid Sulaiman

It is spring 2012 and 40,000 people have died since the start of the Syrian Arab Spring. In the wake of this, Yasmine has set up a clandestine hospital in the north of the country. Her town is controlled by Assads brutal regime, but is relatively stable. However, as the months pass, the situation becomes increasingly complex and violent. Told in stark, beautiful black-and-white imagery, Freedom Hospital illuminates a complicated situation with gut-wrenching detail and very dark humor. The story of Syria is one of the most devastating narratives of our age and Freedom Hospital is an important and timely book from a new international talent.

 

indexVietnamerica: A Family’s Journey by G.B. Tran

GB Tran is a young Vietnamese American artist who grew up distant from (and largely indifferent to) his family’s history. Born and raised in South Carolina as a son of immigrants, he knew that his parents had fled Vietnam during the fall of Saigon. But even as they struggled to adapt to life in America, they preferred to forget the past–and to focus on their children’s future. It was only in his late twenties that GB began to learn their extraordinary story. When his last surviving grandparents die within months of each other, GB visits Vietnam for the first time and begins to learn the tragic history of his family, and of the homeland they left behind.

 

Young Adult/Middle Grade

 

611DTCgMKnL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Baddawi by Leila Abdelazaq

An arrestingly drawn debut graphic novel, Baddawi is the story of a young boy named Ahmad struggling to find his place in the world. It explores the childhood of the author’s father from a determinedly boy’s-eye view. Ahmed was raised in the refugee camp of Baddawi in northern Lebanon, one of many thousands of children born to Palestinians who fled (or were expelled from) their homeland during the 1948 war that established the state of Israel. Ahmad’s dogged pursuit of education and opportunity echoes the journey of the Palestinian people, as they make the best of their existing circumstances while remaining determined to one day return to their homeland.

 

51EFLPnPSNL._SX367_BO1,204,203,200_Alpha: Abidjan to Paris by Bessora, Illustrated by Barroux, Translated by Sarah Ardizzone

Alpha’s wife and son left Côte d’Ivoire months ago to join his sister-in-law in Paris, but Alpha has heard nothing from them since. With a visa, Alpha’s journey to reunite with his family would take a matter of hours. Without one, he is adrift for over a year, encountering human traffickers in the desert, refugee camps in northern Africa, overcrowded boats carrying migrants between the Canary Islands and Europe’s southern coast, and an unforgettable cast of fellow travelers lost and found along the way. Throughout, Alpha stays the course, carrying his loved ones’ photograph close to his heart as he makes his perilous trek across continents.

 

81wQUSqlI6LThe Unwanted by Don Brown

Starting in 2011, refugees flood out of war-torn Syria in Exodus-like proportions. The surprising flood of victims overwhelms neighboring countries, and chaos follows. Resentment in host nations heightens as disruption and the cost of aid grows. By 2017, many want to turn their backs on the victims. The refugees are the unwanted.

Don Brown depicts moments of both heartbreaking horror and hope in the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis. Shining a light on the stories of the survivors, The Unwanted is a testament to the courage and resilience of the refugees and a call to action for all those who read.

 

IllegalIllegal: A Graphic Novel by Eoin Colfer & Andrew Donkin, Illustrated by Giovanni Rigano

Ebo is alone.His brother, Kwame, has disappeared, and Ebo knows it can only be to attempt the hazardous journey to Europe, and a better life―the same journey their sister set out on months ago.

But Ebo refuses to be left behind in Ghana. He sets out after Kwame and joins him on the quest to reach Europe. Ebo’s epic journey takes him across the Sahara Desert to the dangerous streets of Tripoli, and finally out to the merciless sea. But with every step he holds on to his hope for a new life, and a reunion with his family.

 

9781609808730Zenobia by Morten Dürr

Zenobia was once a great warrior queen of Syria whose reign reached from Egypt to Turkey. She was courageous. No one gave her orders. Once she even went to war against the emperor of Rome.

When things feel overwhelming for Amina, her mother reminds her to think of Zenobia and be strong. Amina is a Syrian girl caught up in a war that reaches her village. To escape the war she boards a small boat crammed with other refugees. The boat is rickety and the turbulent seas send Amina overboard. In the dark water Amina remembers playing hide and seek with her mother and making dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) and the journey she had to undertake with her uncle to escape. And she thinks of the brave warrior Zenobia.

 

91u6-Cb4wnLEscape from Syria by Samya Kullab, Illustrated by Jackie Roche

From the pen of former Daily Star (Lebanon) reporter Samya Kullab comes a breathtaking and hard-hitting story of one family’s struggle to survive in the face of war, displacement, poverty and relocation.

Escape from Syria is a fictionalized account that calls on real-life circumstances and true tales of refugee families to serve as a microcosm of the Syrian uprising and the war and refugee crisis that followed.

The story spans six years in the lives of Walid, his wife Dalia, and their two children, Amina and Youssef. Forced to flee from Syria, they become asylum-seekers in Lebanon, and finally resettled refugees in the West. It is a story that has been replayed thousands of times by other families.

When the family home in Aleppo is destroyed by a government-led bomb strike, Walid has no choice but to take his wife and children and flee their war-torn and much loved homeland. They struggle to survive in the wretched refugee camps of Lebanon, and when Youssef becomes fatally ill as a result of the poor hygienic conditions, his father is forced to take great personal risk to save his family.

Walid’s daughter, the young Amina, a whip-smart grade-A student, tells the story. As she witnesses firsthand the harsh realities that her family must endure if they are to survive — swindling smugglers, treacherous ocean crossings, and jihadist militias — she is forced to grow up very quickly in order to help her parents and brother.

 

61Kl9CImU7LSeeking Refuge by Irene N Watts

In this follow-up to the successful Goodbye Marianne, Irene Watts explores what it is like for a young refugee girl to flee Nazi-occupied Austria alone. The poignant story is relatable to the terrible situation facing refugees in Europe and around the world today.

 

 

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Kristyn is a Middle School Librarian at The Nightingale-Bamford School in NY. She also reviews for School Library Journal. Kristyn is a native Brooklynite and the mother of two amazing little people. You can often find her behind a book, behind a cup of coffee, or singing broadway musicals off key at inappropriate times.