Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Rethinking Book Displays – Again

Display Coffin

I am very lucky in that I have two very artistic assistants who do displays for our teens. After 20some years doing displays, I was getting kind of burned out and to be honest, I wasn’t awesome at it. But my assistants are, so it was a task I was happy to delegate. We would work together to come up with themes and I would put together book lists, but my assistants did all the artwork. It was win-win and a great team effort. We were all proud of the displays we were doing. I mean, look at these awesome displays . . .

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My assistants put together elaborate and artistic displays that often involved custom made letters, artwork and a lot of bling. They were amazing to look at. The only problem is, they weren’t doing what we needed them to do: nobody was checking the books off of the displays. We were doing displays to help get teens reading and books circulating, but the books were sitting there on the displays without being checked out. This became a concern. So we put our heads together and started asking what we could or needed to do differently.

After a lot of discussion, we decided that maybe it was because our displays were too good. That sounds like a weird thing to say, but think of what happens when you visit an art museum. You are taught to stand back and look at the artwork from a distance with admiration and respect. Look, but don’t touch. So we wondered if maybe patrons weren’t viewing our book displays in the same way that you might view art at an art museum: look, but don’t touch.

So we began a series of experiments. First, we pared down the amount of bling we had on our display, but still had a colorful background. We wanted to still have colorful, eye catching displays but didn’t want to intimidate our patrons and make them think that they couldn’t walk up to the display and check out a book. And thus our experiment began . . .

display3 display4Display Social Justice

This still didn’t create the result we wanted. One or two books would circulate, but on the whole our displays still weren’t moving books the way we wanted them to.

So then we decided to pare down our display to the very basics and put the emphasis on the books. We went with bare walls, a simple sign and books galore. When possible, we would include interactive elements, such as this what YA would you like to see on Netflix display where we invited teens to participate and share their thoughts with us. Or we are including buttons like the display below that has an “I Read Past My Bedtime” button to take when checking out a book from our Read Past Your Bedtime display. We even include signage that says things like, yes please check these books out and read them.

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At this bare minimum, we discovered that yes, the books were being circulated off of the displays more. In fact, in the Netflix themed display you see above, we filled more holes than we ever have on one of our YA displays. This made us very happy; our goal is, after all, to get books into the hands of readers.

We are going to be continuing this experiment for a while as we try to determine how best to utilize our display space to increase circulation and get YA books into the hands of teen readers. Let us know below by leaving a comment what you’re doing with your display spaces and what you have found to be the most effective ways to get books circulating off of a display.

YA A to Z: Peace and Quiet – Recharging Your Battery After Summer Reading, a guest post by librarian Lisa Krok

 It’s almost here, the end of summer. Which means for a lot of us, summer reading is wrapping up. Today librarian Lisa Krok is joining us to talk about recharging your batteries.

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We all know that summer reading brings with it a flurry of activity, endless prep and cleanup, and most importantly, happy kids who are keeping their minds engaged and avoiding the summer slide. Now that your maker projects, crafts, concerts, slams, book clubs, cup stacking, video games, and cupcake wars are done, catch your breath. Literally…stop right now and take in a few deep inhales and exhales and be mindful of feeling yourself decompress. I think we get caught up in go-go-go-go for so long that we forget how to unwind and relax. We have served our patrons well, and now we need to recharge in that blissful month between summer reading ending and school starting, August.

Think of the speech they give every time you board an airplane: put the mask on yourself first before assisting others. Our nature as librarians is to be helpful, but we must take care of ourselves first to be of any good to anyone else. If you’re feeling burned out and exhausted, it is time to recharge. Ironically, one of the things that will help you recharge is to unplug. Yes, I said it. If you can’t do it for a week, do it for a day. If not a day, do it for an hour. No phones, no emails, no social media, no screens of any kind, just BE.

Stop and breathe some more; enjoy your surroundings. There are many things to appreciate that cost little to no money at all. Go for a walk in the park or visit your local botanical gardens for some beautiful sights and intoxicating scents. Many towns have free music in the park or at local colleges on the green. Bring a blanket along and enjoy a picnic. If you enjoy cooking, make your favorite meal; if not, treat yourself to a cherished restaurant. Have a soak in the tub for as long as you want (bring a book, of course).

Spend some time on your own or as a family at a local lake, beach, or pool. Sunshine and good books have tremendous healing powers! So do furry friends that may live in your home and relish extra cuddle time. Catch up with friends and family you haven’t seen because you have been too busy. Enjoy simple pleasures like lemonade or iced tea on the porch, smiling as your kids create with chalk on the driveway, or just watch the world for a while: wind blowing in the trees, squirrels running, birds chirping. Bring out some bright pencils and color in those Harry Potter and curse word coloring books (my two personal favorites) you bought but rarely use. Have a nap. Paint your nails. Practice some yoga poses. Light those scented candles you have been saving for something special. YOU are special, and you deserve them.

Lisa Krok

 Meet Our Guest Blogger

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Lisa is a branch manager and teen librarian in the Akron-Summit County Public Libraries in Akron, Ohio, a member of the 2019 Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers team, and a Ravenclaw. She can be found being bookish and political on Twitter @readonthebeach. A to Z

Sunday Reflections: Sometimes, If You’re Lucky, You Find More Than Books at the Library

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It is Friday night and I have just packed up all my stuff after sitting outside in the baking sun for a public library outreach event. I am pulling a wagon up a hill to load up my car and go home to binge watch some TV when I see them walking around town, a group of my library teens. I look over and say hi and they say hi back from across the street. As I see them there, this tight nit group of friends, my heart swells with pride.

Let me go back and explain.

This teen space would soon become our Teen MakerSpace.

This teen space would soon become our Teen MakerSpace.

A little over 3 years ago, I first met a teen who would soon become one of my library regulars. At this point and time, there was no Teen MakerSpace, but proposals were being written and plans were being discussed. I didn’t realize at the time, but the TMS would change everything.

A view into the Teen MakerSpace through the windows. That's TLTer Robin Willis making something in the Teen MakerSpace!

A view into the Teen MakerSpace through the windows. That’s TLTer Robin Willis making something in the Teen MakerSpace!

In January of 2016, the Teen MakerSpace opened. This one teen soon began coming quite regularly. Another teen started coming, he liked making stop motion movies and would frequent the stop motion animation station. And soon after, a teen here and a teen there started coming. Many teens have come and gone, but this small group of teens started coming quite regularly. And sitting in this space, conversations began.

Over time, this regular group of teens began forming close friendships, the kind of friendships you read about in YA books. They started coming basically daily to the library and hanging out in the Teen MakerSpace. A few of them create art quite regularly. Some of them come in and read while waiting for the others to show up. Then they gather around a table, some creating art and some not, and they talk. They talk, they laugh. On occasion, they have fought. But what friendship has ever existed without the occasional fight? They have loved, laughed, cried and raged together. They are a bright light in a darkness that has existed in a world being torn apart by hatred and political discord.

I watched this summer as they came to the library every day and made stuff or read or just hung out. At some point each day they would get up, walk downtown together and share a $5.00 pizza. Then they would come back and hang out some more. Their friendship is the stuff of YA novels and John Hughes movies.

One day I sat with them as they planned meeting up the next day at the river to go swimming and tubing. One of the teens wasn’t permitted to go, but she brought sunscreen and made sure they all put it on before leaving for the river. She also packed them each a snack bag, making sandwiches cut out to look like butterflies. A couple of days later I got to hear them all talk about their glorious summer day at the river. It was, in a word, epic, the type of summer memory that many kids only dream of.

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Several of these teens have had a really rough summer. I can’t tell you what those challenges have been, because patron privacy is a real thing. But in the midst of this epic friendship, there has been a lot of heartache and very real life challenges. They have been there supporting each other through them all.

To be quite honest, they haven’t always liked me. One summer push came to shove and I had to kick one of the teens out of the library for a couple of weeks because they were being hostile to my staff and creating an unwelcoming library environment for all. I have had to enforce library policies and ask for changes in behavior that haven’t always been appreciated. But I always made sure to let them know that it wasn’t them I had an issue with, but specific behaviors. They kept coming back and I kept welcoming them back, because the truth is, I like my teens.

The truth about working in a public library is that it can be mundane. You know the work you do is important, that public libraries are important, but the day to day tasks of working in a library are, well, work. You put together collections of books to buy, you straighten shelves, you do research behind the scenes to plan programs, you buy the daily supplies you need. There is not a lot of glitz and glamour. There is politics and budgeting and helping the 100th person print off a paper or make a photocopy. There are opening and closing procedures. There are meetings and discussions and the gathering of statistics to discuss in these meetings and discussions.

But then there are the moments . . .

The moment where someone tells you that a book they read because you bought that book and put it in your collection changed their life in some way.

The moment where someone comes to a program and tells you that they had a good time or learned something new.

The moment where you see a group of friends walking around downtown and you realize that that group of friends exists because you created the exact right environment at the exact right time for them to come together and get to know one another.

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For three glorious years I have watched this group of teens grow close, support one another, and help each other find their voice in a world that often doesn’t want to hear what they have to say. I am proud of who they are, who they are becoming, and the very small part that I was honored to be able to have in all of that.

No matter what else has happened or will happen in my career, I will never forget the moment when I watched this group of teens walk down the street and I realized that in whatever small way, I helped them find what they needed at the library – It wasn’t a book or a movie or a computer, it was each other. And it happened at the library.

I am thankful that I got to be a part of this and so very proud of these kids, their friendship, and the small part my library played in bringing good into this world.

Friday Finds: August 3, 2018

tltbutton3This Week at TLT

Book Review: DeadEndia: The Watcher’s Test by Hamish Steele

Things I Never Learned in Library School: Public Libraries, 3D Printers, and Guns – oh my

What a strange time to be a woman, a guest post by Bree Barton

Book Review: Heart of Thorns by Bree Barton

YA A to Z: P is for Penultimate, how a competitive writing competition inspired a YA novel

Sunday Reflections: The Reality and the Myth of Just Get a Job and Its Impact on Kids

Around the Web

‘Catwoman: Soulstealer’ By Sarah J. Maas & 11 New YA Novels Coming Out In August 2018

Representation: Raising the Bar

5 Sweet Queer Love Stories to Devour This Summer

Can You Print A Gun At Your Local Library? It’s Not Likely

Raising Kids Who Want To Read — Even During The Summer

John Green wants you to read tiny books – The Washington Post

Check out the Penguin Teen 2019 YA Book Preview

From multiple Muslim sci-fis to Jewish and Asian fantasies to romantic comedy between two boys of color these are the most anticipated books from now until December! via Barnes and Noble

Sitka Public Library is providing some amazing services:

Keep your eye on this amazing resource:

And here’s another look at August releases thanks to Pop Goes the Reader

Book Review: DeadEndia: The Watcher’s Test by Hamish Steele

Publisher’s description

deadendiaBarney and his best friend Norma are just trying to get by and keep their jobs, but working at the Dead End theme park also means battling demonic forces, time traveling wizards, and scariest of all–their love lives!

Follow the lives of this diverse group of employees of a haunted house, which may or may not also serve as a portal to hell, in this hilarious and moving graphic novel, complete with talking pugs, vengeful ghosts and LBGTQIA love!

 

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I’m always marrying things—a really yummy pancake, a cute dog, a good book. Add this graphic novel to my marriage line-up; I’m in love with this book.

 

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.

 

Norma has nicknames for everyone working at the park—it helps with her anxiety, because she’s always worried she will forget someone’s name, so she just calls them nicknames. Barney has a crush on Logs, Logan, who runs the flume log ride. But it’s hard to start up a new relationship when you’re constantly being visited by faceless echo demons, or an angelic punisher, or turned into an animal, or dealing with a fear-eating skull, or being visited by a happiness vampire. Norma starts hanging out with Badyah, a cute hijabi girl, who helps her move past her social anxiety a bit (though Norma doesn’t like being asked to hang out, is horrified with herself when she can’t come up with an excuse to not hang out, and is disgusted to have “plans” to know facts about Badyah), but she also seems a therapist. When trying to describe to someone why her one day of everything seeming strange and scary is nothing to how every day is for Norma, she says, “It doesn’t make me pathetic. It doesn’t make me weird. It makes me brave.” The main characters all have kind of a lot of real-life things to deal with and don’t exactly need the excitement and drama (and terror) that comes with demons, but, willing or not, they slog through this time-traveling battle royale with each others’ help. 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. 

 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781910620472
Publisher: Nobrow Ltd.
Publication date: 08/07/2018

Things I Never Learned in Library School: Public Libraries, 3D Printers, and Guns – oh my

thingsineverlearnedinlibraryschoolWe considered a lot of things when we were discussing adding a 3D printer to our Teen MakerSpace at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County. These things included space, time, money and staff education. At the end of the day and after a lot of research, we decided that a 3D printer wasn’t right for our library for a variety of reasons, but none of those reasons included guns. It turns out, we should have considered guns as well. We were very naive about 3D printers many moons ago.

Like most librarians, I have been through active shooter training at my library multiple times. I’ve been taught where to go, what to do, and how to keep myself and my patrons safe should an active shooter come into the library. I was actually already working as a teen librarian when Columbine happened, and the landscape of what it means to work with teens has changed significantly since that day. Just this past year we saw teen led protests asking us to think about school safety and gun violence. Now, more than ever, working with teens means you have to think about gun violence, gun safety, and the second amendment.

Last week, the news began reporting that there was a possibility and a fight over whether or not plans for printing unlicensed, unregistered guns on a 3D printer could and should be released to the public via the Internet. Until I heard it on the news, I didn’t know this was something that I should be worried about, though of course it is. The distribution of these plans so freely on the Internet would change everything we know and talk about when we discuss the second amendment and a “well-regulated militia.” And as these guns are printed via plastic filament, they would be unrecognizable by standard safety equipment. This would literally change the entire discussion we are currently having regarding gun safety.

If you have watched the rebooted version of Lost in Space on Netflix, there is actually a character who prints a gun using a 3D printer, which becomes a significant plot point later in the episode. This gun is, of course, used by a bad guy to hold characters hostage and get them to do their will. As guns always do, this 3D printed gun changes the arc of the story and creates a new power balance.

So what’s happening in the public debate? The Trump Administration recently settled a lawsuit which opened the door that would allow for the CAD plans on how to print 3D printed gun to be released via the Internet. This means that anyone with access to a 3D printer could print for themselves a gun and that this gun would be unlicensed and unregistered. It would allow any and all people with access to a 3D printer to bypass current laws and regulations. This would create a large number 0f guns in existence that could not be traced to any specific time, place or person. A legislator introduced legislation to stop the release of these plans, which had not passed as of last night. At the last minute, a judge moved to bar the release of these plans until more is known.

The battle to stop 3D-printed guns, explained – Vox

Here’s the things: some plans for printing a 3D gun are already available on the Internet, though they were reportedly taken down. But if you understand anything about the Internet, you know that things uploaded don’t really ever go away. In the discussion about this issue on NPR this morning they emphasized that if you wanted to, you could in fact still find the first initial plans for printing a basic 3D printed gun.

3D Printed Guns and the Library: A Reminder That Policy is Important

What does this have to do with libraries? Many libraries provide access to 3D printers and if you haven’t already, you need to be thinking about what your policies are and how you will respond to this issue. Because many libraries have active policies in place barring bringing weapons into the library, they also have policies in place about creating weapons in the library. I did an informal poll on Twitter and many respondents indicated that they did, in fact, have a no weapons policies in place. A few respondents indicated that they will need to bring this issue up with their administration. One respondent stated that in their state, Kentucky, it was against the law to prohibit a patron from making a 3D printed gun if you provide access to a 3D printer.

Library prepared for 3D printed gun technology | KATV

As a side note, it’s relevant, I think, to point out that even most cons which actively encourage cosplay have policies against bringing realistic looking weapons to the con. This is a matter of public safety and is, I think, good policy. It is public safety that we must consider as well as the law.

If your library provides access to a 3D printer, now is a good time to look at your policies and make sure they are current, relevant and accurate. Hopefully you have done the work beforehand and your policy does address things like making weapons. If not, now is a really good time to reconsider your policies.

Policies should be well thought out and articulated to the public and staff and consistent with public library standards. If you don’t allow weapons in the library, you can’t allow the creation of weapons in the library. And all staff should be trained on how to enforce the policy and how to handle any potential patron complaints. Remember, the discussion of gun safety is a very volatile discussion at times in our cultural discourse, it is entirely possible that staff will encounter some extreme emotions on both sides of this debate and they need administration help in knowing what to say and who to kick those complaints up to.

Library administration will want to continue to pay attention to this issue and keep their policies current. The issue of gun safety and rights isn’t going away and this just complicates that discussion. It’s the job of administration to be aware and pro-active. Public libraries fail staff and patrons when they are reactive as opposed to pro-active. We need to do our due diligence.

And in case you’re wondering, no I don’t think that patrons should be able to use 3d printers in the library to create weapons of any sort. It’s a matter of patron and staff safety.

What a strange time to be a woman, a guest post by Bree Barton

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Author Bree Barton, whose book, HEART OF THORNS, is out today, joins us to talk about freedoms, feminism, power, and stories. Hop on over to this link to see Amanda’s review of Bree’s new book. 

 

 

In some ways, we have never enjoyed more freedom. As I write this post, I am sitting in a café drinking crimsonberry tea and wearing short shorts—an outfit that would have seen my grandmother shunned by “polite society.” I went to a good school and got a good job. At thirty-three, I don’t have kids, and no one is pressuring me to. Last year I saved up money and took myself to Iceland for ten days on a book research trip. I never once felt unsafe.

 

In other ways, we are stripped of our freedoms every day.

 

I’ve always been interested in what it means to have a body, especially as a woman. What brings us pleasure? What brings us pain? Who has control over our bodies? I wish the answer to the last question were unequivocally “ourselves,” but we know that isn’t true. Controlling someone else’s body is about power, and historically, that power has belonged to men. The church. The government. Husbands. Doctors. And, most recently: the Supreme Court.

 

But to be perfectly honest, those questions were not at the forefront of my mind three years ago, when I started writing my debut fantasy novel.

 

We’d had a good few years. I canvassed for Obama in 2008, riding the wave of optimism undulating across the country. Sure, the years under the Obama administration weren’t as rosy as they’d appeared on those “YES WE CAN” posters. But they weren’t that bad. Right?

 

Besides, we had Hillary. I watched Hillary Clinton decimate Donald Trump in the debates with tears in my eyes and pride in my heart. We were going to have our first female president. If I did decide to have children someday, they would grow up never questioning that a woman could be in charge.

 

As a cis white woman, I thought about power in an abstract sense, the way a palm tree imagines a blizzard. That’s the thing about privilege: it’s so inherent for those of us who benefit from it, most of the time we don’t even know it’s there. I knew my book would have magic—it was, after all, a fantasy—and magic typically involves an exploration of power. But that was just fiction. It wasn’t real.

 

Then November 2016 happened.

 

Suddenly, I caught a glimpse of what people of color, my LGBTQIA+ friends, and anyone from a marginalized community had known all along: the world was not an equal playing field. The game was rigged. I only got a taste of the reality they faced on a daily basis, but that taste was staggeringly bitter.

 

Though I will never understand their centuries of pain, I began to see the ripple effect of our new president’s policies. I could no longer afford my health insurance. On my last covered trip to the gynecologist, she urged me to consider an IUD. “Just to be safe,” she said. “Since we don’t know what’s going to happen.”

 

Meanwhile, one of my favorite nonprofits closed its doors after 20+ years. My local library had to abbreviate their hours, thanks to budget cuts. Nightmare stories began to pile in—hate crimes, casual racism, threats to deport kids from LA Unified. I did what everyone did: Unfriended bigoted relatives on Facebook. Read all the memes. Cried over the thought pieces. Called my representatives.

 

heart of thornsAnd then I took the draft of my debut novel—and I burned it to the ground.

 

Heart of Thorns didn’t start out as an expressly feminist fantasy. I hope everything I ever write is feminist, but not until the presidential election did the story truly snap into focus.

 

In the first two drafts of HoT, I had a fuzzy concept of an “evil king.” After Trump seized the throne, let’s just say that character emerged in high definition. For the first time I saw King Ronan of Clan Killian for what he was: a hateful tyrant who seals the borders, persecutes people of color, and abuses his bisexual son. A man who not only condones assaulting women, but makes it actual policy.

 

I wrote about the unmitigated reality of the United States: racism, misogyny, xenophobia, hate. Sci-fi and fantasy authors talk a lot about wordbuilding, but for me worldbuilding was a three-prong process: read the news, shudder in horror, then write it into fantasy.

 

As I shredded my draft to ribbons, a new question knit itself together in my brain. What if our bodies evolved to shift the power imbalance? What if the “tables turned” and magic focalized in a woman’s body gave her power over men? How would she use that power? For good, or for evil?

 

I knew in my bones I wanted to create a magical system in which the female body had evolved to right the imbalance of power. In the world of Heart of Thorns, this power is why women are feared and hated…but the more they are feared and hated, the more powerful they become.

 

This is a strange time to be alive. But if there is one thing I’ve learned from the heartbreaking events of the last two years, it’s that we have never needed stories more. Stories allow us to write about the horrors of the present—and they also empower us to write the future we desire.

 

In 2017, I launched Rock ‘n’ Write, a nonprofit dance and writing class for preteen and teen girls. Every week we come together to dance, write, and connect; to move our bodies and open our minds. What I tell my girls is, stories have power. Anyone who tells a story—or crawls inside the ones they read—does possess magic.

 

Today’s culture tries to alienate us, to remind us of the ways we are different. Books remind us of the ways we are the same. We need libraries now more than ever. We need librarians to lead kids to books. We need stories to shine light on every corner of humanity—the bad, the good, the resplendent. This is why we read. Always and forever, we yearn to be drawn into the light.

 

 

Meet Bree Barton

Bree BartonBree Barton is a writer in Los Angeles. When she’s not lost in whimsy, she works as a ghostwriter and dance teacher to teen girls. She is on Instagram and YouTube as Speak Breely, where she posts funny videos of her melancholy dog. Bree is not a fan of corsets.

Book Review: Heart of Thorns by Bree Barton

Publisher’s description

heart of thornsInventive and heart-racing, this fierce feminist teen fantasy from debut author Bree Barton explores a dark kingdom in which only women can possess magic—and every woman is suspected of having it.

Fans of Leigh Bardugo and Laini Taylor won’t want to miss this gorgeously written, bold novel, the first in the Heart of Thorns trilogy.

In the ancient river kingdom, where touch is a battlefield and bodies the instruments of war, Mia Rose has pledged her life to hunting Gwyrach: women who can manipulate flesh, bones, breath, and blood. The same women who killed her mother without a single scratch.

But when Mia’s father announces an alliance with the royal family, she is forced to trade in her knives and trousers for a sumptuous silk gown. Determined to forge her own path forward, Mia plots a daring escape, but could never predict the greatest betrayal of all: her own body. Mia possesses the very magic she has sworn to destroy.

Now, as she untangles the secrets of her past, Mia must learn to trust her heart…even if it kills her.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

The prologue to this ARC says, “Once upon a time, in a castle carved of stone, a girl plotted murder.” Talk about immediately roping you in!

 

On the eve of her marriage to Prince Quin, Mia Rose is planning to stage her murder and run away. At 17, Mia has been trained as a huntress, and wants nothing more than to track down the demonic Gwyrach that killed her mother. Mia and her sister Angie, 15, are the daughters of an assassin, the leader of the Gwyrach hunters. The Gwyrach are half god, half human, and literally any girl or woman could be one. They transmit their magic via touch, so all girls are made to wear gloves to protect everyone from potential magic. All girls and women are under suspicion of being a Gwyrach and, as such, have their lives restricted. Mia has spent the past three years studying anatomy, hoping to learn how to protect against the Gwyrach power. She wonders what would happen if one could harness their power for good (instead of using it to enthrall and to wound, as they do now). If the hunters could eliminate magic, then no one could control another person’s body, thus girls would be free and could live full lives of their own choosing. These are all the thoughts Mia is having when she thinks about running away. Things grow even more complicated when she overhears a conversation between Quin and his parents in which they say Mia is dangerous and they speak of allegiances, leverage, and blackmail. All set to flee from her wedding, she is surprised when Quin is shot by an arrow and chaos breaks out at their ceremony. But that surprise is nothing compared to a revelation: while dragging Quin to safety, she somehow manages to heal him completely; Mia is a Gwyrach. Together, Quin and Mia flee the castle, uncertain where they will go, but desperately trying to get away from whoever wants them dead.

 

For me, the story really became good when they find themselves in a land where Mia begins to learn more about the Gwyrach and about her mother (and about herself and about Quin, for that matter). Here, the Gwyrach are acknowledged as creatures of the divine, a sisterhood, as angels and descendants of goddesses. She learns a lot about magic, including why the women are magic and why men are threatened by their power. The story looks at secrets, trust, lies, treachery, safety, traps, feminism, patriarchy, rape, love, hate, anger, dark magic, and betrayal. SO MUCH BETRAYAL. This is the first book in a series and I suspect readers will be anxious to see what happens to Mia and Quin, especially as we end on such a cliffhanger. Mia, who now knows she is a Gwyrach, as was her mother, and has been deeply shocked by a betrayal she couldn’t have seen coming, has many new understandings about her world. It will be interesting to see where her story goes. Full of action and intrigue, this will have wide appeal for fantasy fans. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062447685
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 07/31/2018

YA A to Z: P is for Penultimate, how a competitive writing competition inspired a YA novel

Today for the letter P, guest blogger Cecily Wolfe is joining us to discuss her YA book

The Competition.

yaatoz

In the spring of 2017, I was asked to chaperone the members of my middle school age daughter’s competitive writing team at the state championship event. The two-hour drive with these young writers, some I had never conversed with before, got me thinking. As a writer myself, most things do, but this was an extraordinary circumstance. I wondered if anyone had written about teens participating in a writing competition, and after a brief search on my phone after arriving and managing to snag a donut and coffee somewhere amidst the controlled chaos (very controlled – after three decades, those running the event know what they are doing), I discovered that none, if they existed, were easily found.

The Competition was born that day, or at least the start of many notes that evolved into the story. Some of my daughter’s teammates were happy to be there, and others weren’t. Both sides told their stories, from their love of writing and storytelling, to the pressure from parents to win, both for the prestige and for the money. The scholarships involved were specific to the host college (it is the same every year) but not enough to cover the tuition, and certainly nowhere near the full, four-year scholarship the characters in the novel aim towards.  What spoke to me most was the emotional aspect of the experience, and my notes, written on the back of handouts left on tables as I waited in the café area of the school building that held the initial assembly that morning, included facts as well as those emotions.

Less than a week later, I accompanied a friend who was visiting a family member in state prison.  Her family’s struggles were the inspiration behind my 2017 YA novel, That Night, and as we talked on the drive down to Richland Correctional, a young girl with an incarcerated brother she adored crept into my thoughts. What if this girl, who was too young to visit her brother without her parents’ permission, was a writer in this competition story that was building in my head? Mary Sofia, determined to rise above her violent family history and be a role model to her younger brothers and sisters, was born that day, and Raiden, Camara, Michael, and Jada not long after.  A longtime friend of one of my daughters who is on the autism spectrum was the inspiration for Julia, with whom I took great care while writing. Julia never says she is autistic, but her behaviors lead her classmates to suspect she is. I also took a chance writing a biracial and a Chinese character, knowing that as a white woman, I am putting myself out there for some criticism. I was wary of stereotypes and asked my daughters’ friends who are from these backgrounds to read what I had written and share their insights, which were invaluable, with me.

What does all this have to do with the letter P?

competition

The Competition is the name of the book, but the actual competition is called The Penultimate. While the influence of the real event held in Ohio every year, called the Power of the Pen, is what started the story growing in my thoughts, the details of the fictional event are different. In The Competition, 100 high school juniors compete for a full scholarship to a prestigious private college worth $200,000. The four main characters as well as the secondary characters have different motivations for participating, but all have made the cuts from district and regional events and have proven themselves as some of the top writers of their age in the state. Some of what happens is inspired by real events: for example, one of my daughter’s teammates was so stressed out because of parental pressure that she vomited after one of the writing rounds, and so do some of the characters in the novel. The overnight stay is entirely fictional, and provided more social time to explore the relationships that build between these four teens who have never met until the day of the competition. With such diverse backgrounds and challenges, how and why would they ever become friends?

Common ground, of course, and as The Competition illustrates, it can exist when you least expect it. Often it isn’t discovered until difficulties arise and you have to work together to overcome them, as these characters find out only hours after meeting each other. Like my first YA novel, this one is about dealing with adversity while holding on to hope and trust, becoming stronger for the challenge, and being emotionally present for others who are facing their own struggles.

About The Competition, which publishes on September 18 in both paperback and electronic editions:

For Mary Sofia, The Penultimate writing competition is more than a chance at a free college education; she wants to show her younger siblings that they can all rise above their violent family history. For Raiden, the pressure to succeed comes from within, although he knows that family traditions play a part in his determination. For Camara, writing fiction is almost compulsive, but her own dark secret may be the best story she can ever tell. For Michael, swimming and writing fit his introverted personality perfectly, but meeting a smart and beautiful girl at The Penultimate makes stepping outside of his comfort zone easy. All four will compete against each other along with 96 other high school juniors for the chance of a lifetime: a full scholarship to a prestigious private college. Some students will do anything to win, but others may pay the price.

Meet Cecily Wolfe

Cecily Wolfe was born and raised in Akron, Ohio. She graduated from Kent State University with degrees in English and library science, and enjoys her career as a librarian in Cleveland. She is the author of That Night, (longlisted for the 2018 In the Margins book award), Reckless Treasure, A Harvest of Stars, and the Cliff Walk Courtships series.

https://www.cecilywolfe.com

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Sunday Reflections: The Reality and the Myth of Just Get a Job and Its Impact on Kids

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This Saturday marked a monumental moment for us in the Jensen household. For the first time in Things 2’s life – and for clarity, she is 9 and 1/2 years old – the Jensen family was able to get up together and have a family breakfast together around our table. The Mr. woke up and made waffles, eggs, bacon, and toast – yum. We then spent the day lounging around our house. We had friends over on Saturday night for a little BBQ and then we sat around and played games.

It was glorious.

Saturday morning breakfast as a family!

Saturday morning breakfast as a family!

This may seem mundane to you, but I have to emphasize an important point: this was the first time in my second child’s lifetime that we are able to have what is considered a boring and typical Saturday afternoon as a family. You see, The Mr. has been stuck working a weekend nights job for the entirety of her life. He spent the weeekend afternoons sleeping so that he could get up again and work from 5 PM to 7 AM. And if you have school age kids, you may understand what it means to have your 2 days off a week be during the regularly week and work every weekend. Here is just a short list of the things my second child has never gotten to do because of work schedules:

Go on a weekend camping trip

Go to a theme park on a Saturday with her entire family (we’ve gone, but I take them while The Mr works/sleeps)

Go with her entire family to a weekend movie, play or sporting event

Go to church with her entire family

Go out to dinner on a weekend evening as a family (sometimes early on he wasn’t so exhausted he could get up and eat lunch with us, but as the years progressed he needed more sleep and we also ate lunch alone)

I have strongly held opinions about work/life balance and work schedules because of the way that The Mr.’s work schedule has negatively affected our life. When he originally took the job that we moved here to Texas for, it was to get off of nights. But soon after we moved they put him on nights and just refused to take him off. Even after he started having extreme health issues. Even after new people were hired. Even after they knew he was looking for a new job. He made the night shift awesome and they rewarded him by never taking him off the night shift, and it hands down sucked for our family.

Look at us, snuggling on the couch and doing nothing on a Saturday!

Look at us, snuggling on the couch and doing nothing on a Saturday!

So look for a new job he did. For over 4 years. He has applied for thousands of jobs. He had a first interview for probably around 100 of those jobs. They always were for significantly less money than he currently made. They almost always told him that he was overqualified. They never resulted in an offer and he kept looking.

I am so excited and happy to announce that one month ago, he finally got a new job! And this weekend, we are laying around as a family doing absolutely nothing. But loving every minute of it. I have missed him. I have missed us. I had forgotten what family feels like.

I’ve been thinking about jobs a lot because I have a lot of librarian friends who are looking for new jobs. The library profession has been changing a lot over the last ten years and I can see that shift in the stories they share about their job searching.

For example, now, very few libraries are hiring YA/Teen librarians. In the early 90s that was a huge push to give dedicated teen services, but that dedication is eroding and teens are being pushed aside and absorbed into either youth or adult services once again. If you have paid attention to the name of this blog, you’ll know I have strong feelings about this. YA librarians are actually some of the most well versed librarians I know because they must work with both youth and adult services in ways that other librarians don’t because we get stuck any and everywhere and our patrons read up and down their age just as frequently.

Many libraries are posting job opportunities for MLS librarians with experience but only offering part-time hours.

Many of these people are going on job interviews and then hearing . . . nothing. They never hear one way or the other, they are just left dangling in the wind.

Like in other fields, there are a lot of applicants for very few jobs and it is very competitive. You’re either under qualified or overqualified. Or you don’t have the exact same set of skills needed for the job, as though potential employers have forgotten how much a librarian has to be a jack of all trades and how most of us can do a lot of things and how those skills can easily transfer to a different skill set.

For the last 4 years, my life has been all about people getting a new job. The Mr. desperately needed a new job because we wanted to be able to do something – anything – on a weekend as a family and because we wanted to put him in a position where we didn’t keep going to the doctor with a variety of bizarre health issues that no one could figure out except that honestly sir, working nights takes a toll on the human body and you should get a new job.

Just get a job. Just get a new job. Just get the right job.

We live in a capitalist society that favors the rich and the corporations, not the people doing the labor that keep those corporations operating on a day to day basis. Many employees today lack benefits, work/life balance, career mobility, livable wages, and more. Yes, even in libraries.

This weekend, my family is celebrating because The Mr got a job that is better for his health and allows him to be home on the weekends with his family during the school year. This means that for the first time ever, we’ll be able to do those things that many people take for granted, like sit around on the couch on a Saturday night and watch a movie with the family.

I am a huge and vocal proponent for a variety of issues because I see the way they impact our kids today, and here I mean kids in the universal sense not just specifically my biological kids. Though I obviously care about my biological kids a lot. Ask any teacher or youth services librarian and we will be able to tell you about how hard it is in today’s world for a family to be a family, for a parent to parent, and the impact it is having on our kids.

And the lack of livable wages, that is devastating to our families. 1 in 5 children goes to bed hungry each night, even in homes where parents are working 2 and 3 part-time jobs.

Remember when we cared about kids and understood that working together to take care of our children helped to ensure us a bright and promising future? I miss those days. We have never been perfect, but we’ve been better. Though there are whole other posts about what it means to grow up as a child in a marginalized group and you should read those. However hard it has been and is for us, a privileged white family, it is so much harder for people of color.

I don’t have a great wrap up for this post. No pithy punchline or searing sentence that sticks the landing. I’m just both grateful and angry for the jobs situation in the United States. I’m personally grateful that The Mr. got a new job and I got to have the type of Saturday I could only dream of for years, and personally angry because I know how hard it was to get to this point and how many other people are still struggling to get there themselves.

I am also not unaware that it can be ripped away from us at any moment. There is a lot of instability in the world of employment today.

We’re supposed to be a great and rich nation full of wealth and opportunity, so why are our families struggling so hard just to barely survive? Maybe that’s the only wrap up I have. We need to do better for one another.

We went to church together as a family this morning!

We went to church together as a family this morning!

Now if you’ll excuse me, we’re off to go to church together as a family.

*Please note, for the purposes here I am referring to a family as any family unit, not just a family with two kids and two parents. Single parents raising their kids are a family. Single people. It doesn’t matter what a family is made of, all families deserve health, wellness, and the opportunity to thrive.