Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

How to Write Books that Aren’t Exciting, a guest post by Bryan Bliss

When I first came up with the idea for Thoughts & Prayers, I paused. Coming off the heels of my previous novel—We’ll Fly Away, which dealt with the death penalty—I was reminded of a writing mentor’s response when one of his eager MFA students really went for it.


“A bit much.”

A school shooting book? Really? While I have made a career writing about current topics, I’ve always been hesitant to go too “ripped from the headlines” for fear of trading on pain and trauma in the name of publishing a relevant novel. Plus, if I’m honest, the voices of my two teenagers were in my head, reminding me I write books that—and I quote—aren’t very exciting.

Teens, right?

But…fair enough.

I’ve always been interested in the subtle moments of adolescence. The rages and the furies, yes. But in smaller quantities—only used to offset the quieter moments when kids are alone with one another, when they feel vulnerable and connected in a way that is so intimate, so real, I often believe adults spend the rest of their lives seeking that same connection. That same sense of truly being accepted. Having somebody you can count on, no matter what.

This urgency is well known to anyone who writes or reads young adult literature. But too often, it can become a hyper-reality, especially in so-called issue novels. I don’t fault any writer who wants to tell a story in the moment. In fact, I often wonder if I would do the same if I could only pull it off with any skill. But if we begin thinking teenagers are only searching for that sort of rush—an adrenaline shot in 300 pages—we miss out on the need, the desire, to develop and investigate interior lives. To encounter big traumas on the page and relate them to the different-sized traumas we all face.

I am not trying to be an apologist for my novels or suggest that there aren’t many other authors working in these same, subtle places. Writers I respect, like Nina LaCour, Sara Zarr, Francisco X. Stork, and Lamar Giles (to name a few) are masters at presenting stories that are simultaneously beautiful, complicated, and joyful. These authors give teenagers an opportunity to see a familiar, often challenging world—the world as it could be—in the pages of books that honor the struggles and wonders of real life.

Again, grain of salt coming from the guy who wrote a book about a teenager on death row and followed it up with a story about three teenagers dealing with the after-effects of a school shooting.

A bit much, indeed.


But We’ll Fly Away was a death penalty book only in shorthand. And Thoughts & Prayers is less about a school shooting and more about how teenagers are so damn strong, so damn resilient—so damn brave. Both books may have been conceived by focusing on a Big Issue, but my stories never stay on such high a shelf for very long. Instead, they always find their centers, their true weight, in the moments when one teenager looks at another teenager and says, “Don’t worry. I’m here for you. I’ve got you.”


As you can imagine, my children are not impressed with this argument—especially as they are both voracious readers who finish books in single sittings, gripped by stories that I admittedly will never be able to write for them. In fact, when I told my son about this blog, he grimaced and said, “All I want is one book with a happy ending!”

This is a criticism I won’t take as quickly. Yes, my books rarely resolve with two teenagers holding hands under an arcing rainbow, a neat bow. But ambiguity and messiness do not indicate a lack of hope or happiness. There is always a path through the muck and the darkness in my books—even if it doubles back on itself time and time again.


All we need is a sliver. All we need is a spark, a chance. The smallest hint of light. Anything to draw us forward, even a single step. Because the more we see it—in novels or real life—the more we believe it exists.

What’s more exciting than that?

Meet Bryan Bliss

Bryan Bliss is the author of four novels, including Thoughts & Prayers, which released today, and We’ll Fly Away, a 2018 National Book Award longlist selection. He teaches in the MFA program at Seattle Pacific University and lives in St. Paul, MN with his family.

Check out Amanda’s review of Thoughts & Prayers here.

About Thoughts & Prayers

Thoughts & Prayers: A Novel in Three Parts

Fight. Flight. Freeze. What do you do when you can’t move on, even though the rest of the world seems to have? 

For readers of Jason Reynolds, Marieke Nijkamp, and Laurie Halse Anderson. Powerful and tense, Thoughts & Prayers is an extraordinary novel that explores what it means to heal and to feel safe in a world that constantly chooses violence.

Claire, Eleanor, and Brezzen have little in common. Claire fled to Minnesota with her older brother, Eleanor is the face of a social movement, and Brezzen retreated into the fantasy world of Wizards & Warriors.

But a year ago, they were linked. They all hid under the same staircase and heard the shots that took the lives of some of their classmates and a teacher. Now, each one copes with the trauma as best as they can, even as the world around them keeps moving.

Told in three loosely connected but inextricably intertwined stories, National Book Award–longlisted author Bryan Bliss’s Thoughts & Prayers follows three high school students in the aftermath of a school shooting. Thoughts & Prayers is a story about gun violence, but more importantly it is the story of what happens after the reporters leave and the news cycle moves on to the next tragedy. It is the story of three unforgettable teens who feel forgotten.

ISBN-13: 9780062962249
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/29/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

The New New Young Adult Experience, a guest post by Lauren Myracle

Being a teenager is hard.

Being the parent of a teenager is hard!

Sheesh, being a human is hard, period, and despite the exhilarating glory of being sixteen and alive, or seventeen, eighteen, nineteen and alive, it seems to me that our world has moved on in such a way that navigating adolescence is perhaps more challenging than it’s ever been. My therapist told me the last time I paid him a visit that psych manuals and textbooks have even changed the definition of adolescence. Whereas it used to be defined as the years from twelve to twenty, the term—as it applies to human development—now encompasses the years from twelve to twenty-six. My therapist was telling me this, by the way, to help me find my way from feeling completely irate at my (late) adolescent sons to feeling compassion for what their lives look like in this new world of ours, from their perspective.

Adulthood is scarier than ever, and financial independence in the town where I live  is crazy hard to attain.. So what do we do? If we’re on the adult side of the divide, we guide and steer and help push these ever-older adolescents toward adulthood, and we recognize that the paradigms and parenting models that might have worked for many of us are no longer applicable to the kids we’re raising. For those on the teen side of the divide…I don’t know! All anyone can do, I think, is take it step by step, trying to live a kind and honest life, a life which hopefully will be exhilarating as well, because exhilaration is out there, teeming through all of creation.

This Boy tells the step-by-step story of a teenage boy named Paul. His life is glorious; his life is wretched. He experiences triumphs; he suffers through dashed hopes. He chooses some pretty unhealthy—who am I kidding? very unhealthy—coping mechanisms to propel him forward, and he ends up in a pretty shit place. And then, you know, not. Or at least, not as much. I didn’t write this novel to say, “Everything sucks and then you die,” though. I wrote it…oh, as a hug, I suppose? An admission that life, and especially adolescence, is fucking hard, and an admission that I certainly don’t have the answers for how to make it not so. Except, we can love one another, and we can treat each other kindly, and we can aim, always, for compassion. And pray to God that all our beloved adolescents come out safely on the other side.

Meet Lauren Myracle

Lauren Myracle is the author of many popular books for teens and tweens, including Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale; the New York Times bestsellers ttyl and ttfn; the Upside-Down Magic series; the Wishing Day trilogy; and many more. A Netflix adaptation of Let It Snow, her novel cowritten with John Green and Maureen Johnson, will air in late 2019. She has been referred to as a modern-day Judy Blume and has sold over three million books worldwide. Lauren Myracle lives with her family in Fort Collins, Colorado.

About THIS BOY

Lauren Myracle brings her signature frank, funny, and insightful writing to this novel of a teenage boy’s coming-of-age.

Paul Walden is not an alpha lobster, the hypermasculine crustacean king who intimidates the other male lobsters, beds all the lady lobsters, and “wins” at life. At least not according to the ego-bursting feedback he’s given in his freshman seminar. But Paul finds a funny, faithful friend in Roby Smalls, and maybe — oh god, please — he’s beginning to catch the interest of smart, beautiful Natalia Gutierrez. Cruising through high school as a sauced-out, rap-loving beta lobster suits Paul fine, and if life ever gets him down? Smoke a little weed, crunch a few pills . . . it’s all good.

But in the treacherous currents of teenage culture, it’s easy to get pulled under. With perfect frankness, Lauren Myracle lays bare the life of one boy as he navigates friendship, love, loss, and addiction. It’s life at its most ordinary and most unforgettable.

ISBN-13: 9781536206050
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication date: 04/14/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Book Review: The Pride Guide: A Guide to Sexual and Social Health for LGBTQ Youth by Jo Langford

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, a starred review, which originally appeared in the July 2018  School Library Journal.

 

pride guideThe Pride Guide: A Guide to Sexual and Social Health for LGBTQ Youth by Jo Langford (ISBN-13: 9781538110768 Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. Publication date: 06/01/2018)

Gr 9 Up—This frank, conversational, and often humorous look at sex, sexuality, gender, and expression is aimed at teens who identify as something other than heterosexual and cisgender. Langford, a bisexual therapist, sex educator, and parent, presents a wide range of information in short, if somewhat dense and visually unappealing, sections. Chapters tackle biology; puberty; body image (with a heavy emphasis on trans teens and dysphoria); intersex conditions; gender identities such as transgender, genderqueer, and agender; transitioning; dating and relationships; consent; and more. Sexual expressions and orientations covered include asexual, demisexual, gray-asexual, and bisexual, with conversations about erasure. A final chapter aimed at parents offers tips, a discussion of what not to do when one’s child comes out, and more. Sidebars go into more depth on other subjects (tucking and binding, the singular “they,” homophobia). Langford also discusses outdated terms and slurs. This inclusive, thorough resource respectfully presents information relevant to many queer teens and adults raising LGBTQIA+ kids. VERDICT Shelve this empowering guide where both parents and teens will find it.