Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

The Teen Reads the Complete Works of A. S. King

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At some point last year, The Teen and I both read an Advanced Review Copy of DIG by A. S. King, an author of whom I have been a long time fan. It is, in my opinion, one of her best works. I handed the ARC to The Teen telling her, when you get to the end it will blow your mind the way all the various bits and pieces come together – and it did. She loved DIG so much that she decided she was going to read every book by A. S. King. I’m going to tell you more about DIG in an upcoming post and book review as it comes out on March 26th. But we you need to know and understand that she was so moved and blown away by DIG that it prompted her to decide on her own that she was then going to read each and every book by A. S. King and then proceeded to do so.

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The Teen says that DIG is “Simply perfect. It all comes together.”

She had already read Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, a book that she likes and recommends frequently. She has even gifted Glory O’Brien to friends for Christmas and birthdays. You can read more about Glory O’Brien here. She has also already read Ask the Passengers, a book she loves and widely recommends as well. In fact, she recently recommended Ask the Passengers and Please Ignore Vera Deitz (discussed below) to her English teacher. So over the past month or so, The Teen has been reading the entire works of A. S. King and today we are going to share that experience with you. Because she had already previously read Ask the Passengers and Glory O’Brien’s History of the World, they are unfortunately not reviewed or discussed below. Just know that she likes and recommends them both. In fact, Ask the Passengers is one of her favorite books.

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Another favorite of mine is Please Ignore Vera Dietz, so I was excited that The Teen was finally going to read this one. This is the story of a young girl, Vera Dietz, dealing with the death of her friend and crush Charlie. Here’s what she had to say about it . . .

king5“I love this book so much. Showcases grief, friendship, family betrayal and all the things that come between. Beautifully written.”

She then read I Crawl Through It. I will honestly admit that this is a book that has always seemed way over my head. I get bits and pieces of it, but it has never come together for me in the ways that King’s other books have. So when The Teen finishes reading it, I asked her to explain it to me. Her response was, “I can’t explain it to you, but it makes sense to me and I think it’s really powerful.” I Crawl Through It is about 4 teens who are traumatized by various life events, including sexual violence, school shooting drills, and over testing and their attempts to escape the high pressure life they find themselves being forced to live in. This is what The Teen had to say about it . . .

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“A great book on the issues teenagers face in school and how important it is to deal with your problems.”

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She then tackled Still Life with Tornado. This is a book in which a 16-year-old girl named Sarah finds herself talking to various other versions of herself as she works through some very real issues. The Teen had this to say about it . . .

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“Shows to many important things and touches on many common issues in society.”

The Teen also read, but did not love, Reality Boy. Reality Boy is the story of Gerald, a teenage boy who is forced to live his life on reality tv who struggles with anger issues. This is what The Teen thought about it . . .

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“I don’t like Gerald but {this book} shows how influential media and abuse are.”

The Teen then read Me and Marvin Gardens, which I was slightly surprised about because it is a middle grade book and kind of outside her reading interests, but she read and liked it. I give her credit for her commitment to the reading project. This is what she had to say about Me and Marvin Gardens . . .

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“Precious and 100% worth the read.” The Teen doesn’t really do precious, she prefers dark and murderous, but we all contain multitudes and I was glad to see this review.

Everybody Sees the Ants is another one of my favorites and I was also glad when she tackled this one. Everybody Sees the Ants is about Lucky Linderman, whose grandfather never came home from the war, whose father never got over that, whose mother pretends that nothing is wrong and who is, quite unfortunately, being bullied mercilessly by the hands of Nader McMillan. This is what the teen had to say about Everybody Sees the Ants. . .

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“An inspiring story, very uplifting.”

As an aside, I am a part of an adult book club and every time it’s my turn to pick a book, I choose a YA book. My adult book club has read this book and every adult there loved this book as well. It’s an important and moving story about overcoming, healing, and dealing with the very real trauma that life throws at you.

And finally, The Teen read The Dust of 100 Dogs. Funny story, this is the only A. S. King book I have never read but I am sure I will eventually because I now own a copy of it. The Dust of 100 Dogs is one of the few A. S. King books that doesn’t really contain her now characteristic surrealist style and The Teen found that to be a real drawback, though your mileage may vary. A late teenage female pirate is reincarnated as a modern day teenage girl trying to get to Jamaica to unearth treasure she knows is buried there. This is what The Teen has to say about it . . .

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“Not her usual surreal book, but still an interesting story.”

Let me just take a moment here to tell you that this is the book we have had the most discussion about. This book contains an interesting mother/daughter dynamic, which The Teen explained to me, and we talked a lot about it. The mother, it seems, is trying to live vicariously through her daughter so she is controlling and the relationship is unhealthy. It’s interesting to me that although she liked this book perhaps the least, it would be a tie between this one and Reality Boy I think, that it generated the most discussion.

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Her favorites, in no particular order are:

  • Dig
  • I Crawl Through It
  • Everybody Sees the Ants
  • Still Life with Tornado
  • Ask the Passengers (another previously read title that is a favorite)

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As a mom who also happens to be a YA librarian and a fan of A. S. King, it was fascinating to watch The Teen decide she wanted to do this thing and then do it. I checked out books from the library as she asked for them. I bought some of them online for her. We talked about each book as she read, some more than others. She has actually met A. S. King in the past at a teen author event, so she is not unaware of who she is. And as I have mentioned, she had previously read a couple of her books. I think that A. S. King earned a lifelong reader and fan through this process, and it all happened because one teenager read one book and decided she wanted to keep going. A. S. King’s books spoke to my daughter about the teenage experience, but they are also – as she says – smart, intelligent, complicated and twisted and demonstrate that as a writer, A. S. King respects and understands her readers. I think more than anything that what I heard my daughter saying as we talked about these books was that she felt understood, moved and valued.

#SJYALit: Discussing GLORY O’BRIEN’S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE with A. S. King

Glory O'Brien's History of the Future

Last night we had the pleasure of talking with author A. S. King as part of our #SJYALit Project. We talked feminism, politics and bats. The Twitter conversation is Storified for you below.


  1. My 1st Question for @AS_King is where did the inspiration for GLORY come from? #SJYALit


  2. .@AS_King We chose this book for our #SJYALit discussion because of its discussion of women's rights & bodies. What does it mean to you now?


  3. .@AS_King How did the mummified bat powder taste when you drank it? Clearly you were able to see into 2017 pretty well. #SJYALit



  4. @TLT16 #SJYALit Hoo boy. Well, people would ask me where I came up with the future parts of the book and I'd be like: Um, look around. 1/?


  5. #sjyalit @AS_King After seeing the power of the #womensmarch, do u feel this is a good time or bad time for women? Wish I could see future!


  6. @TLT16 #SJYALit I didn't try to write about those things, but those things are important to me--so that's what comes out when I write.


  7. @TLT16 #SJYALit What it means to me now is: Come on. I'm still protesting for the same shit? Still?


  8. When I heard that the OK rep called women "hosts", a scene from GLORY came immediately to mind. It's eerie. @AS_King #SJYALit  https://twitter.com/zachjpayne/status/834920334469914624 …


  9. @AS_King I have been in a couple of marches recently and I saw a lot of older women carrying signs that said exactly this. #SJYALIt


  10. @shelfemployed #SJYALit The #womensmarch was amazing. Shows our strength. But our rights are being whittled once again. We must keep going.


  11. @shelfemployed #SJYALit I think things get better for women slowly. And none of us are safe if even one of us isn't.


  12. @TLT16 @AS_King #SJYALit just wanted to say I think your books are terrific, really great. You knock it out of the park!


  13. @ZachJPayne @TLT16 #SJYALit Believe me, Zach, I wish Nedrick and DJT were figments of my imagination. Neither are. Sad! (Sorry. Had to.)



  14. @TLT16 Yes. Hosts. Incubators. Eggshells, in a sense. I could poke holes in these theories all day long. #sjyalit


  15. @MizCrozet @TLT16 #SJYALit Thank you so much! I do try. I know I'm a bit weird, but then again, I always did.


  16. It's weird because they sexualize women, call us hosts, romanticize pregnancy, but don't want insurance to have to cover it. #SJYALit  https://twitter.com/AS_King/status/834922145725759488 …


  17. @shelfemployed #SJYALit Yes. I was a non-consumerist for 10 years as I lived self sufficiently on a farm in Ireland. Now, minimalist.



  18. @shelfemployed #SJYALit I just can't stand how we're all bought and sold. It was, in a way, how we ended up in the political sit we're in.



  19. I really appreciated the look at complicated friendships and not knowing what to do post-high school. #SJYALit


  20. #sjyalit @CiteSomething I never drank it, though. I do now have an impressive collection of bats people send me. But no drinking them.


  21. @TLT16 And it wasn't scary as much as it was disorienting. For years after that, I wondered WTAF I was doing on the planet. #SJYALit



  22. @AS_King If you figured it out, please tell me the secret. I still haven't. #SJYALit



  23. #sjyalit @AS_King With so much happening so quickly, what do you feel is the most urgent issue facing U.S. women and girls today?


  24. We are trying to be more experience focused vs. stuff focused here. But it's hard because teens & peer pressure and stuff. #SJYALit  https://twitter.com/AS_King/status/834925525026111488 …


  25. @TLT16 #sjyalit I think it's a daily thing. One day I'm here to be the best mother I can be. Next, a writer. Next, I'm back to WTAF.


  26. I find that teen readers are drawn to friendship stories because they are trying to navigate those just as much as romantic ones. #SJYALit  https://twitter.com/AS_King/status/834925656685314049 …



  27. As a mother, how open should we be raising teen daughters I wonder? I find that I am very. I want my kid to know she's normal. #SJYALIt  https://twitter.com/AS_King/status/834925903130034177 …


  28. @TLT16 I don't know. For me it changes every day with my teen. Honesty is good. Love is best. Understanding is key. But I HATE that our...


  29. @TLT16 I don't know. For me it changes every day with my teen. Honesty is good. Love is best. Understanding is key. But I HATE that our...


  30. @TLT16 ...girls don't feel normal. I think it's causing the rise in teen mood disorders and it's time to pay attention, not shame, you know?


  31. @TLT16 ...girls don't feel normal. I think it's causing the rise in teen mood disorders and it's time to pay attention, not shame, you know?


  32. @TLT16 Peer pressure is a bitch. That, I know...now that I have seen the interior of the principal's office one too many times this year.


  33. @TLT16 Peer pressure is a bitch. That, I know...now that I have seen the interior of the principal's office one too many times this year.


  34. I can't imagine how current political discussion are affecting both girl & boy perceptions of women. And they read it. #SJYALit  https://twitter.com/as_king/status/834927470402908160 …


  35. @TLT16 Glory is a feminist. But so is Ellie. People mis-define it. Skew it. They take its power away bc women scare the shit out of them.


  36. @TLT16 Glory is a feminist. But so is Ellie. People mis-define it. Skew it. They take its power away bc women scare the shit out of them.


  37. Like what must it feel like to be a 14yrold girl & hear policy makers say you are a host, not a person. #SJYALit  https://twitter.com/as_king/status/834927470402908160 …


  38. @TLT16 I'm a feminist, so all of my books are feminist. ANTS had the V. Monologues. Vera had...Vera. Crawl had So many things. Tornado...


  39. @TLT16 I'm a feminist, so all of my books are feminist. ANTS had the V. Monologues. Vera had...Vera. Crawl had So many things. Tornado...




  40. @TLT16 Also, I've never dreaded that word. The opposite is a proud denial of equal rights. Any definition that denies that is incorrect.


  41. @TLT16 Also, I've never dreaded that word. The opposite is a proud denial of equal rights. Any definition that denies that is incorrect.



  42. @TLT16 IDK. I can tell you what my 14yo said when I told her about the vagina glue story yesterday. "Did these get out of health class or??"


  43. @TLT16 IDK. I can tell you what my 14yo said when I told her about the vagina glue story yesterday. "Did these get out of health class or??"


  44. @TLT16 :) Thank you. I appreciate that as I toil away on the next YA.


  45. "We form. We shine. We burn. Kapow" may be my favorite words in YA ever. Says it all. So thanks for those. @AS_King #SJYALit



  46. @TLT16 I would v much love one of those buttons. And so would my mother.


  47. @CiteSomething Thank you. I was just talking to an astronomer this week and we geeked out about Sagan and I told her those words. She smiled


  48. @CiteSomething Thank you. I was just talking to an astronomer this week and we geeked out about Sagan and I told her those words. She smiled


  49. @indubitablyzara @CiteSomething Oh indeed. I have bats. Quite a few. They creep me out, but remind me that death and life are a second apart


  50. @indubitablyzara @CiteSomething Oh indeed. I have bats. Quite a few. They creep me out, but remind me that death and life are a second apart



  51. @TLT16 I love it. I've also been out of the loop the last 2 or so weeks--not out of choice but out of family crises. So I haven't seen many


  52. @TLT16 I love it. I've also been out of the loop the last 2 or so weeks--not out of choice but out of family crises. So I haven't seen many


  53. @shelfemployed In the works: A book. For 2018 all going well. Not quite sure how to explain it @ this point. It's weird. (As if.)


  54. @shelfemployed In the works: A book. For 2018 all going well. Not quite sure how to explain it @ this point. It's weird. (As if.)


  55. @TLT16 Glory O'Brien is a serious girl. She thinks seriously and isn't caught up in the consumerist world. She was the girl I wrote for me.


  56. @TLT16 Glory O'Brien is a serious girl. She thinks seriously and isn't caught up in the consumerist world. She was the girl I wrote for me.


  57. @TLT16 I'd never seen me in a book before. But she's there for you all, too, because you are not your hymen or your wardrobe. You are your..


  58. @TLT16 I'd never seen me in a book before. But she's there for you all, too, because you are not your hymen or your wardrobe. You are your..



  59. @TLT16 BRAIN and your heart and your sense of humor. Do what you want to do. In make up. Or not. In heels. Or not. Just be comfortable.


  60. @TLT16 BRAIN and your heart and your sense of humor. Do what you want to do. In make up. Or not. In heels. Or not. Just be comfortable.


  61. @TLT16 Because the world makes it uncomfortable for us every day, so at least be comfortable in yourself. (And smash the patriarchy.)


  62. @TLT16 Because the world makes it uncomfortable for us every day, so at least be comfortable in yourself. (And smash the patriarchy.)


  63. @AS_King I can't wait! #SJYALIT That's why I never wrote a review of GLORY.Too hard to explain. In the #library, it's usually "hand-sold." ????


  64. @TLT16 Thank you so much for having this chat with me. I appreciate your support.


  65. @TLT16 Thank you so much for having this chat with me. I appreciate your support.


  66. I love @AS_King and thank you so much for your time tonight! Everyone read GLORY O'BRIEN if you haven't'. Thank you for your time! #SJYALit



  67. I will storify the #SJYALit chat with @AS_King Tomorrow and I'll put it on TLT

    Publisher's Book Description:

    In this masterpiece about freedom, feminism, and destiny, Printz Honor author A.S. King tells the epic story of a girl coping with devastating loss at long last–a girl who has no idea that the future needs her, and that the present needs her even more.
    Graduating from high school is a time of limitless possibilities–but not for Glory, who has no plan for what’s next. Her mother committed suicide when Glory was only four years old, and she’s never stopped wondering if she will eventually go the same way…until a transformative night when she begins to experience an astonishing new power to see a person’s infinite past and future. From ancient ancestors to many generations forward, Glory is bombarded with visions–and what she sees ahead of her is terrifying: A tyrannical new leader raises an army. Women’s rights disappear. A violent second civil war breaks out. And young girls vanish daily, sold off or interned in camps. Glory makes it her mission to record everything she sees, hoping her notes will somehow make a difference. She may not see a future for herself, but she’ll do anything to make sure this one doesn’t come to pass.

 

Cover Reveal + Interview: STILL LIFE WITH TORNADO by A. S. King

I believe it is no secret that I am a HUGE fan of the writing and works of A. S. King, so I was honored when her publicist reached out to me and asked if we wanted to do a cover reveal for her Fall 2016 release, STILL LIFE WITH TORNADO. Because YES! I want to do that thing. And as an added bonus, I got to read a super advanced copy of this book, which hit my right in the existential feels and did not in any way disappoint. It’s good, it’s moving, and it’s expertly crafted, which will surprise no one.  I also had the chance to ask A. S. King a few questions, which I appreciated because she is such a passionate advocate for teens and teen issues. Without further adieu, I present to you the cover of STILL LIFE WITH TORNADO . . .

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It’s such a good representation of the theme and mood of the book.

Still Life With Tornado Description

A heartbreaking story of a talented teenage artist’s surreal awakening to the horrifically unoriginal brokenness of her family from critically acclaimed award-winner A.S. King.

Sarah can’t draw. This is a problem, because as long as she can remember, she has “done the art.” She thinks she’s having an existential crisis. And she might be right; she does keep running into past and future versions of herself as she explores the urban ruins of Philadelphia. Or maybe she’s finally waking up to the tornado that is her family, the tornado that six years ago sent her once-beloved older brother flying across the country for a reason she can’t quite recall. After decades of staying together “for the kids” and building a family on a foundation of lies and violence, Sarah’s parents have reached the end. Now Sarah must come to grips with years spent sleepwalking in the ruins of their toxic marriage. As Sarah herself often observes, nothing about her pain is remotely original —and yet it still hurts. Insightful, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful, this is a vivid portrait of everyday abuse and survival that will linger with readers long after the last page.

A Short Interview with Author A. S. King

A.S. King Author Photo

What was the process of coming up with this cover design like for you? And how do you think this cover represents this book and the life of Sarah?

Cover design is something I’m a bit of a nerd about. I started out as a visual artist and the entire process of book design is exciting to me. I’m very fortunate to have a bit of input for most of my covers and in this case, I knew we’d be starting in a good place because my editor, Andrew Karre, knows what I like when it comes to cover art. When he sent the first of the images for Still Life With Tornado it was a pretty powerful WOW moment.

I love this cover so much. I think it fits the book so well. Look at that messy funnel scribble of life! I’m thrilled that we went with something so striking and conceptual. As Samira Iravani worked on the design and added the labels to the tornado, it just got better and better. By the time the cover was done I felt it represented Sarah’s story perfectly.

You obviously are very passionate about the life of teenagers and I think you represent their inner lives really well. What do you think are some of the biggest challenges teens are facing today?

I think teens in the early 21st century are facing some interesting challenges and if I went into them all, we’d be here all week. But on a more internal level, I write pretty widely about the underestimation and disrespect of teenagers in our culture and how it’s hurting not just present teenagers, but future adults (who are actually now adults). I love exploring the double-standard psychology of it. The superiority. The lying-to-save-them-from-the-truth. The eye-rolling. The near-instant mistrust and the near-non-existent patience. As humans, our growth doesn’t stop when we fit into adult-sized clothing. Not one person I know would treat a toddler the way they treat a teenager when the child trips over his own shoe or accidentally spills her cup of juice. Or when they cry. There’s a sort of systemic psychological hazing teenagers undergo in our country and it’s not something that’s easy to call out. It’s in the groundwater. It’s in the mindset now—in our DNA. I see college students rolling their eyes at high school students, and graduates of both rolling their eyes at all beneath them. It’s a cycle of condescension and alienation. It didn’t always used to be like this. We’re eating ourselves.

I’m interested in the family unit and what it looks like now compared to just before WWII when my parents grew up. I’m interested in how the family unit has changed and how it relates to the teenage experience I talked about above. I’m interested in why families fall apart and how we might be able to keep them together or if we should, which is what drew me to writing about Sarah and her mother Helen in Still Life With Tornado, I guess. Domestic abuse is still so normalized in our culture that it’s hard to figure out where our priorities really lie when it comes to children. There’s a lot of weird shit in the groundwater, really. And we’re all drinking it. And I don’t think it’s good for any of us.

So I’ve read a few pages of Still Life with Tornado and there is a moving scene where your main character, Sarah, stands before a painting that obviously speaks to her. What painting or artist really speaks to you? What art would you like to share with teens?

I really can’t pick a favorite artist or painting. It’s an impossible task. I can say that if I only have two hours in a large museum I tend to skip to the abstract expressionists, surrealists, and contemporary artists. I can go to the same museum many times and be blown away by a different painting each time. When I walk in I think I’m excited to see, say, the Van Gogh or the Rothko or the O’Keeffe, but then I see a piece by a painter I’ve never heard of before and I can’t breathe it’s so good. That happened to me in St. Louis when I went to see one of the best Max Beckmann collections in the country. I love Beckmann intensely and I was thrilled to see so many of his pieces, but then I got upstairs and this giant triptych by someone I never heard of made me start crying on the spot. I do that in museums, just like Sarah’s mom. Art flips a switch in me.

I wish there were more women represented in museums. I love to see a Grace Hartigan or an Aleksandra Ekster piece in a collection but I still wish there was more representation. There are loads of women painting and they always have been, but in the arts we are often limited to the old standards. So if I was to pick art to share with teens, I’d make it like a treasure hunt. I’d want them to find what they like. Hit the museum first and see what appeals to them, then sit with a computer and find the names they never heard of before. Something that makes them say wow. I recently Googled “female abstract expressionists” and found a whole new world out there.

We have spoken some on Twitter about adult reactions to your work, and as you know I have been asked several times by adults who question whether or not teens understand your work. What would you like to say to those adults?

I suppose I would start with: Please stop underestimating teens, thanks.

TLT TAB member Lexi is a HUGE A. S. King fan

TLT TAB member Lexi is a HUGE A. S. King fan

Karen, you and I both know teens read my work and certainly understand it. Oftentimes I feel like I’m writing in a sort of code—a code that adult readers can enjoy but that teens can enjoy even more because there’s an extra something in there just for them. I’m not sure how to explain it. Some adults can also understand the code. Those who only read the words and see the concepts as challenging or difficult and then ruminate that into an idea that my work is tootoo…difficult for teens need to stop and remember what it was like to be a teenager and be taken seriously by an adult. (Hard to remember? It’s because it doesn’t happen all that much.) Teens read so many great books from all parts of the library, including the adult literary stacks, and we need to remember that. Also, many of them can do calculus while most adults I know forget how to divide fractions.

So I guess the first thing I’d do if I met an adult who thinks this way is give them a worksheet of complex fraction division problems. If they need help, my thirteen-year-old could probably give them a hand.

ABOUT A. S. King

A.S. King is the award-winning author of eight acclaimed YA novels. Her novel Please Ignore Vera Dietz earned a 2011 Michael L. Printz Honor and Ask The Passengers won the 2013 Los Angeles Times Book Prize. The New York Times called her “one of the best YA writers working today.” King lives with her family in Pennsylvania, where she returned after living on a farm and teaching adult literacy in Ireland for more than a decade. www.as-king.com

Karen’s Thoughts on STILL LIFE WITH TORNADO by A. S. King

This book hit me in the existential feels; it’s moving and expertly crafted. King continues to use unconventional narratives to explore topics relevant to teens in ways that teens will connect with and feel understood,  respected and valued.

You’ll want to add this to your TBR list right now. And thank you A. S. King for your time and passion here today at TLT.

October 11th 2016 by Dutton Books for Young Readers (9781101994887)

Coercion and Sexual Violence in LGBTQIA Lit, a guest post by Nita Tyndall

by Nita Tyndall (@NitaTyndall)

 

We don’t talk enough about coercion as a form of sexual assault, and we specifically don’t talk about it in regards to LGBTQ literature—narratives, as harmful as they are, of boys “wearing girls down” or talking them into sex are seen as commonplace, even acceptable and, on occasion, romantic.

 

We don’t think of queer couples when we think of coercion. We think of a guy pressuring a girl into sex, to keep going, to go further. This narrative is everywhere. It’s in books, it’s in movies, it’s in songs (looking at you, “Paradise By the Dashboard Light”.) Coercion in queer books becomes even more problematic, because oftentimes with power dynamics at play, characters may not only coerce their partner into sex, but into coming out.

 

We do not think of two girls when we think about coercion. When we think of coercion with girls, we think outright bullying, pressuring, non-sexual, non-queer stuff. We do not think of romantic relationships, but we should.

 

While coercion can happen between romantic relationships of any gender, I’m discussing coercion today in girl/girl relationships depicted in YA lit, most notably in A. S. King’s Ask the Passengers and Julie Anne Peters’ She Loves You, She Loves You Not. Both books show instances of coercion, though in different ways and from different points of view.

 

KING1In King’s Ask the Passengers, Astrid Jones is a seventeen-year-old trying to figure out her sexuality and what it means to her. Throughout the novel she’s in a relationship with a girl named Dee Roberts, who is out.

 

Astrid and Dee’s relationship is problematic from the beginning, from when readers are introduced to Dee. While this interaction is played off as a joke, it’s clear Astrid is uncomfortable with how fast Dee wants to move, and also, that this isn’t the first time this has happened:

 

 

 

“Now she’s laughing while she kisses me. ‘You’re not going to tell me to back off again, are you?’

‘Mmm. Hmm,” I manage while still kissing her neck, her ear. ‘Back off,’ I say. I bite her earlobe.

So far in my life, Dee is the only person who wants to totally ravish me. I have to stop her all the time.

 

While Dee never overtly pressures Astrid to come out, (another behavior addressed in Peters’ book), her behavior does continue.

 

“True.” She kisses me sloppily and it makes my insides twist up and we make out for a few minutes and everything is going great until she jams her hand into my pants and I have to stop her from going too far because I don’t want to go that far.

She slaps the car seat and says, “Dammit, Jones! Just shit or get off the pot!”

I decide Dee is now fine to drive home.

 

When Astrid calls her on this behavior, Dee is upset, insisting she isn’t like that or a date rapist even though she’s acknowledged previously that Astrid is scared of her.

 

“Is that how you want to make love to me the first time? Forcing yourself?” I’m crying. I know I’m crying about everyone who’s trying to control me, but I can’t explain that to Dee right now.

“I wouldn’t have ever done something that made you feel horrible. Jesus! You make me out like a date rapist. You know I’m not like that.”

“You were last night.”

“Stop saying that. I was not.”

“Dude, I had to stop you. If I hadn’t stopped you, what would have happened?”

 

Dee’s behavior isn’t viewed in a vacuum to Astrid, instead, she’s presented as another person in Astrid’s life who is trying to control her or make decisions for her. On some level this is understandable, on another, not, because it conflates sexual assault with other people in Astrid’s life who are pushy.

 

She chews on the inside of her cheek. “I just don’t get what the big fucking deal is. I mean, we’ve been together for over five months now. I’m pretty sure I love you!”

Wow. That was… gutsy. Not romantic, but… wow.

“Oh,” I say.

“Oh? That’s all you’re going to say?”

“No,” I say, trying to be gutsy, too. “I’m also going to say that if you—if you think you love me, then shouldn’t you treat me like you love me and respect me? And be patient with me?”

I realize that I’m saying this not just to Dee but also to my mother. And Kristina.

And Ellis. And Jeff. And maybe even myself.

 

Dee’s behavior does change near the end, and she ends up respecting Astrid, but the obvious power dynamic is still unnerving, and the behavior brushed off because Dee is a girl, though Astrid does comment on this at one point during the novel:

 

But what’s the difference between Jeff Garnet and Dee Roberts right now? Last week, Jeff’s pressing me up against his car like some big jerk and tonight Dee’s doing the same damn thing.

 

Astrid recognizes Jeff as a jerk, though. He isn’t redeemed. Dee is.

 

PETERS1Coercion takes a different form in Peters’ SHE LOVES YOU SHE LOVES YOU NOT, again with a power imbalance, though this time it’s age instead of experience and the protagonist is the coercer rather than the love interest.

 

What’s particularly harmful in this book is Alyssa’s coercion of her ex, Sarah, is never seen as anything wrong. Apart from her mother calling her a stalker at one point, Alyssa faces no repercussions for this behavior—her dad kicks her out for being gay, but the coercion is never addressed, even though it’s clear. Alyssa is momentarily ashamed of her actions, but never is this addressed within a larger scope:

 

 

“I felt humiliated. Ashamed. Why? I’d never made Sarah do anything she didn’t want to do. She’d decided. Fifteen was old enough to decide.”

 

You kissed her. Looking back, she may have resisted, but it wouldn’t have mattered. You didn’t want to see. You took her in your arms and kissed her so urgently.”

 

Alyssa’s behavior extends into stalking her ex, as well, told through second-person passages.

 

“You called and called. You texted her. You IM’d, even though she asked you not to…  You drove by Sarah’s house for an hour, maybe two. It was growing dark, and you drove past her house again and again, calling on your cell and texting.”

 

While the above behavior is not coercive, it does speak to the characterization of Alyssa, of her tendency to blatantly ignore her girlfriend’s wishes no matter the context.

 

There’s another danger in Alyssa’s behavior, though also never overtly dealt with in the book, and that’s of her thoughts on another girl who she presumes to also be gay. While the character, Finn, does admit she’s queer later in the novel, Alyssa’s thoughts beforehand also ring an alarm bell:

 

She says, “When did you know?”

‘Know what?”

“That you were…” She can’t even say it.

“A lesbian?”

She nods slightly.

“I’ve always known. Haven’t you?”

The change in her eyes goes beyond shock. More like absolute terror.

Oh my God. She hasn’t acknowledged it yet. How could she not know?

Finn gets up and mumbles, “We should go back.”

I think, You should come out.’ (p. 109)

 

Coercion or pressuring someone into coming out, or assuming their sexuality, is a problem that extends beyond YA literature. The narrative of forcing someone out of the closet or insisting they’ll be happier if they are, particularly if the person doing the pressuring is already out, is extremely problematic. Choosing whether or not to come out is a heavy decision, and insisting that you know better than the person who’s coming out, or making them feel like they have no choice but to, is not only incredibly disrespectful but speaks volumes about our treatment of other queer people: That you can only be happy if you’re out, or that staying in the closet is something to be ashamed of. That other people can make that decision for you, or pressure you into making it. Upholding such narratives as okay or romantic, especially to teenagers, is awful.

 

We need to address coercion in YA, especially with queer relationships. We need to understand that this is not merely a heteronormative issue, that it is sometimes not as obvious as “Come on, just have sex with me.” That it can happen when both partners are the same age or the same experience level and it can happen when they are neither of those things. That it can happen when you feel like you can’t say no, because no one’s given you a handbook for what to do when your girlfriend asks you to do something you’re uncomfortable with and it’s not like she’s a rapist, right? We need to dispel the notion that the only coercion girls are capable of is bullying, that the boy with more experience is always the coercer. That if your partner is out and experienced and you aren’t then somehow you’re inadequate or not enough. That your partner gets to decide if you need to come out or not.

 

We need, as Dahlia Adler pointed out in her post, more positive depictions of consent. But we need depictions of coercion, too. Maybe if we have them, maybe if a teen is able to see that behavior played out on the page, they’ll recognize it, maybe they won’t ignore that gut feeling that tells them something is wrong if their partner does the same thing. Maybe they’ll stop themselves before they try to pressure their partner into sex, maybe they’ll think about the repercussions of that, of what it means.

 

Maybe, hopefully, they won’t think it’s acceptable or romantic anymore. Maybe they’ll realize:

No one can make decisions for you about how ready you are sexually, likewise, no one can make decisions over if you’re ready to be out or not.

 

Meet Nita Tyndall

IMG_1490Nita Tyndall (@NitaTyndall is a tiny Southern queer with a deep love of sweet tea and very strong opinions about the best kind of barbecue (hint: it’s vinegar-based.) She attends college in North Carolina and is pursuing a degree in English. In addition to being a YA writer, she is a moderator for The Gay YA and a social media coordinator for WeNeedDiverseBooks. You can find her on tumblr at nitatyndall where she writes about YA and queer things, or on Twitter at @NitaTyndall. She is represented by Emily S. Keyes of Fuse Literary.