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Book Review: Kat and Meg Conquer the World by Anna Priemaza

Publisher’s description

ra6For fans of Nicola Yoon’s Everything, Everything, Emery Lord’s When We Collided, and Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl,Anna Priemaza’s debut novel is a heartwarming and achingly real story of finding a friend, being a fan, and defining your place in a difficult world.

Kat and Meg couldn’t be more different. Kat’s anxiety makes it hard for her to talk to people. Meg hates being alone, but her ADHD keeps pushing people away. But when the two girls are thrown together for a year-long science project, they discover they do have one thing in common: They’re both obsessed with the same online gaming star and his hilarious videos.

It might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship—if they don’t kill each other first.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

katKat is new to Alberta and starting grade 10. Being the new girl is extra hard for Kat, who has anxiety and panic attacks. She tries to stay off everyone’s radar, ducking quickly through halls and hiding out in the library during lunch. At least in the library, she can play Legends of the Stone, her favorite game. Online is where she feels comfortable.

Meg is an extremely charismatic extrovert who has ADHD and has bounced around between friends and is currently mostly friendless. She’s one of only a few black kids in school, chatters nonstop, doesn’t do well in her classes, and is into skateboarding and watching LumberLegs play Legends of the Stone on YouTube.

The two pair up for a science project and, while it’s clear their styles of working (or not working, in Meg’s case) are not going to mesh easily, they bond over LumberLegs and LotS. Meg makes sure they start hanging out, not just getting together to work on their science project, and they start playing LotS online together, too. Meg is a lot for Kat to handle—she’s erratic, wants to make Kat socialize more, and just so full of frantic energy. Kat loves order, predictability, pro/con lists, and hiding out alone. Neither girl reveals her diagnosis to the other, though thanks to the symptoms of ADHD and anxiety, it’s pretty obvious. But not talking about the different ways their brains work and how that affects them makes their friendship all the more complicated, muddying up communication and making for hurt feelings. They have such different goals and concerns. Kat would like to win the science fair, keep playing online with the few people she feels comfortable text chatting with, and be friends with Meg but also be left to her own devices as far as being social. Meg desperately wants to go to LotsCON, to find people in her life who stick around (struggling to figure out friends, her boyfriend, and her relationship with her ex-stepdad), and just be herself without also feeling so bad about who and how she is.

 

I don’t presume to actually know what it’s like to live with ADHD. BUT, my son has ADHD, so I do have a fairly good grasp on what it looks like, if not necessarily what it feels like. This story is not really about the ins and outs of ADHD or anxiety/panic disorder. Kat mentions a counselor who didn’t really help her. Meg is on medication. That’s about the extent of any medical/therapy discussions. But, this story is very much about the day-to-day experiences of both ADHD and anxiety. Meg’s inability to focus, to follow through, to live up to her potential, to complete assignments, to remember details, to think through impulsive choices all ring very true. And, as someone who enjoys the roller coaster of fun that is anxiety disorder and panic attacks, I can definitely say that all seems legit, too. Though their friendship isn’t necessarily easy, it is genuine, and more than anything, that’s what this story is about—finding true friendship and showing your real self to someone else. The alternate narration lets readers into the heads of both girls, really showing how they feel about themselves and their lives. While coincidence brings them together and a shared fandom kicks off their friendship, it’s their deep affection for one another and their eventual honesty that really cements their relationship. A fun book about conquering your fears and finding friendship when your own brain sometimes feels like your worst enemy. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062560803
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 11/07/2017

#MHYALit: How books and being a librarian help me cope with anxiety, a guest post by Erin

MHYALitlogoofficfialHi, I’m Erin. I’m a teen librarian, a wife, a daughter, a best friend, a mom, and an anxiety warrior. Notice how I put that at the very end. There was a reason for that.  The anxiety is the “least of my worries” for lack of a better phrase (insert uncomfortable laughter here). What I’m trying to say is that the anxiety is so much smaller than my other life roles. Yes, sometimes it can become all-encompassing, but, on a good day, one where my other human interactions, my meds, and my to-do list all live in perfect harmony, I might forget that I have anxiety. Crazy, right, but true!

 

Having anxiety has helped me in many facets of my life. Because of the constant drive to succeed, I have become incredibly efficient, and can adjust to the various paces that a day can take working in a library. I know that at 3:25 pm Monday – Friday the teens will come streaming in from school – they drop their backpack, pull up a seat to play a board game, plop down on the couch for a nap, drop into a beanbag chair for some screen time, or roll a chair over to my desk to share the gossip of the day. I can’t guarantee how many teens will show up each day, how much energy will emanate from the room or how much noise will filter out of the doors. Sometimes they come in and we all sit in complete silence, everyone with their heads down and their earbuds in. It’s days filled with uncertainty. Not unlike my anxiety.

 

In researching books for the collection, I commonly come across ones concerning mental health – specifically fiction novels. In doing my job every day I also encounter teens who may or may not share their stories with me. I find books that match teens and excitedly share the book with them in hopes that they will find a piece of them in the story, in the characters.

 

everylastwordAnd then I found a book for me. A book that spoke to me like no other in its genre.

 

That book was Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone.

 

As I read it, I wondered how the author was able to get into my head. The words, the surroundings, the main character and her situations were so real, so vivid, so ALIVE in my own mind. I want to share this book with the world. I want to thank Tamara Ireland Stone for writing it. I am humbled that I am able to select such wonderful works for a thriving Teen Department. To put books like these into the hands of those who need them the most, and of those who don’t know they need them.

 

Being a librarian includes so much more than reading and researching. It includes getting to know your patrons, the good and the bad in their lives if they choose to share. It means giving them the right book, using the right words in conversations, and even exposing your own vulnerability, because in being able to relate to you and all of your facets, a whisper of trust is established. They are not alone; you are not alone; I am not alone.

 

In this journey, we all encounter things that we wish we didn’t have to deal with but we do. Find your librarian; get him or her to give you that one book. Read it, talk about it, embody it, and show the world your strength even on your weakest days.

 

As librarians, we are warriors, fighting for our patrons, fighting simultaneously for our voices and our patrons’ voices to be heard above the roar of the world.

 

So speak up, share, be proud of who you are, and find that one book that speaks to your mind.

 

Meet Erin

In addition to being a teen librarian, Erin is a mother of two and  enjoys researching, reading, writing and social media.

#MHYALit Sunday Reflections: The hard work of getting help and getting better

MHYALitlogoofficfialIt’s election night, 7 pm, and I’m sitting in the doctor’s office being diagnosed with moderate major depression.

 

There’s an obvious joke there—one that’s not funny at all. And it’s maybe the first time anything about me has been described as moderate.

 

 

Bilbo Baggins and Edward Bear are like, yo, lady, could you please go get some help?

Bilbo Baggins and Edward Bear are like, yo, lady, could you please go get some help?

I spent the past few months crying my eyes out and feeling horrible all the time. I kept trying to sort it out and tell myself that it had a cause and would pass. I cried all of August because my grandma died and the horrific monsters-in-human-skin I am related to didn’t tell us. It’s a long story, but suffice it to say, it got super ugly, and was really hard to deal with. So August was a mess of being so angry that I couldn’t even access the part of me that was grieving. I rode most of those feelings through September, but things got a little better. Callum was back in school, I could go for an hour walk every day, I could get writing done and feel like I was on top of things. I got the time alone I need to function. Then October hit. And Callum’s mental health went plummeting—a seemingly endless spiral of anxiety and rage and despair. That meant back to the therapist, who we ended up really disliking, so onto being on the waiting list for someone new. Back to the psychiatrist to see about new medication. Back to meeting with the school to keep people in the loop. It meant hours of my day spent dealing with what he was going through and going to bed just spent every night, sobbing into my dogs’ fur.

 

img_1511

I spent a lot of these past few months lying on the floor in my office looking up at this goofy fan.

At a certain point in all that, I started to think, maybe this is more than stress and some difficult parenting. Sure, I was still getting six+ hours of writing done on a lot of days, but the ability to be high-functioning through this wasn’t exactly negating or masking how I was really doing. My anxiety was off the charts. And there was the little fact of logging multiple hours per day crying, or being on the verge of crying. Of not eating. Of being so, so tired but not sleeping. Of being distracted, unable to focus, and listless. Of kind of hating everything. And November came, and I started to feel even more terrible. November means starting to think about snow and winter. Snow and winter means it’s nearly December. December means marking 4 years since my dad was killed in a car accident on an icy Minnesota highway. All of that means endless crying, and living on Klonopin, and not being able to drive because it’s terrifying and not even wanting anyone I know to drive. Given my general despair levels already being so high in November, I decided to go get help.

 

Here’s the thing: it’s never easy. I’ve been medicated for 20 years for anxiety. I’m a huge believer in erasing shame and stigma. I believe in doctors and therapy and medication. Still, some part of me had existed through this for a few months thinking, But it’ll go away. You’re just being dramatic. You’re not depressed. You’re having a hard time. You live in this nice new house. You just got an agent. Your husband is the most understanding human on earth. You want for nothing. Get over yourself.

 

I know. I know.

 

Good times.

Good times.

I know better. Of course I do. Mental illness doesn’t care how nice your life is. Mental illness can’t be willed away. Wanting to feel better doesn’t override brain chemistry. And I know this. But the idea of having to go see multiple new doctors, of having to recap how I’ve felt, of having to find time for therapy, of trying new medications, of the entire process… it just seemed too much. Wouldn’t it be easier to just decide to feel better?

If only it were that easy.

 

The thing is, even if you’ve been getting help for years, even if you know, logically, that you need to go get help again—new help—it’s hard. It’s emotionally taxing. It’s time-consuming. It’s expensive. It’s frustrating. I prioritized all of these resources for my kid. Get him on track again, I thought, and then we can worry about me. Because anyone with kids knows that idea of putting on your own oxygen mask first is a nice idea, but isn’t always realistic.

 

Bilbo Baggins Dachshund-MacGregor does an accurate impression of me.

Bilbo Baggins Dachshund-MacGregor does an accurate impression of me.

So I went to get help. And am getting help. I’ve got a new medication and some therapy lined up. I hope to someday soon feel a little more like myself. I don’t want to just feel like all I want to do is hide in bed all day watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend or listening to “Autoclave” by The Mountain Goats on repeat and crying. And though lately my days have been the kind where I have to absolutely force myself to do anything that even comes close to looking like basic functioning, I know I won’t always feel this way. It helps a little bit to remember that.

 

Through all of this, both with my son and myself, I keep reminding myself how lucky I am. No, really. We have the resources to get the help we need. We have the knowledge to know we need help, need different meds, need to find not just any therapist but one who is a good fit. We have insurance. My schedule is flexible. Matthew and I can go together to appointments and meetings for and with Callum. I can fall apart and feel utterly broken, but know, deep down inside, in the rational part of my brain that still sometimes sneaks through the noise (which sounds an awful lot like this song), that I will be okay. Because there is help. And I can access it. And I can do the work. And for so many, those avenues of help are nothing but roadblocks, paths that either truly are or just feel inaccessible. Taking care of your mental health, or that of your kid, is exhausting. And when it’s all you can do to drag your butt out of bed each day and pretend to care about anything, it’s extra exhausting. And just because I’ve gotten help in the past, that doesn’t make this easier. Or less daunting. Or less frustrating.

 

But you know what? My doctor told me good for me for coming in and taking good care of myself. And my husband said the same. And my friends said the same. And, driving back that night from the clinic, I thought the same thing: good for me. I know how hard all of this is, but it’s important. I’m taking care of myself. And taking care of my kid. I can do it. You’re maybe doing the same, or needing to do the same. You can do it. And it’s okay to say that it’s hard and it sucks. So let’s remove the shame and stigma of our illnesses, but let’s also acknowledge that, hey, this whole thing is really HARD. There is hope. It’s there. It’s maybe hidden and tiny, trapped under all this mess and pain and self-loathing, but it’s there. Because even though we’re miserable and exhausted, we’re still here. To quote musician Frank Turner, “We could get better, because we’re not dead yet.”

 

Some links to things that I’ve clung to this fall

John Green’s NerdCon Stories Talk About Mental Illness and Creativity

Manic And Depressed, ‘I Didn’t Like Who I Was,’ Says Comic Chris Gethard on Fresh Air

Frank Turner “Get Better”

#MHYALit Discussion Hub at TLT (more than 100 posts!) 

#MHYALit: The Truth I Forgot to Remember, a guest post by Sashi Kaufman

MHYALitlogoofficfialI’ve been in therapy since I was seventeen years old. My mother is a therapist and growing up, going to therapy just wasn’t that big of a deal. It was kind of like going to the dentist -something you could do preventatively or when plaque started to build up on your feelings.

I worked with a therapist in my late twenties and early thirties as I struggled with how to be an adult -the kind that wasn’t afraid of the dark or my heart stopping suddenly and inexplicably. Anxiety. But I didn’t know that then.

After my first child was born I went back into therapy as I limped out of the crushing depths of postpartum depression. I finally went on medication. And even though up to that point I had lived a pretty successful and fulfilling life by anyone’s standards, until I went on medication for anxiety, I had no idea how much I had been managing.  Managing is a funny word. Managing means you’re coping, you’re dealing. But at what cost?

I’m a grown up now. I’m almost forty so I’d say it’s about time. But really, growing up has no set parameters. I like to think better late than never. And once you know enough adults you know that for some people it’s never. So as my adult self I was talking to my mother on the phone one day and I asked her, “Mom, why did I start going to therapy? It was because I was overwhelmed and confused about picking a college right?”

There was silence.

“No,” my mom said cautiously.

That was the story I told myself. That was what I remembered.

“It was because you were threatening to cut yourself.”

“I did?” How could I not remember? But as soon as she said it, it sounded right. How could this have gotten pushed so far back in my memory?

“Yes. You painted on yourself.”

I remembered the paint. Bright red streaks of it up and down my forearms.

There was paint in my room. I was working on a mural. There was a black angel and a cloud of poison -something I think even I recognized at the time as incredibly angsty and overdone. But there was paint in my room. And I remember feeling so miserable, so lonely and miserable. I remember going downstairs and staring at the knives in knife rack. I could picture the beads of blood that the serrated knife would create and the sharp line that the paring knife would draw if I pressed it into the soft flesh of my inner arm.

I wanted them to know. My parents. I wanted them to know how much I hurt and how miserable I was. I don’t even remember why -but I remember thinking they needed to know and I didn’t know how to make them take me seriously.

I walked away from the knives in the kitchen. I went upstairs and picked up a paintbrush instead.

It wasn’t until postpartum depression, almost 17 years later, that I felt that desire to cut again. When I told my therapist about it she told me something about cutting that resonated with me. She said that cutting has a biochemical trigger. That it’s the brain’s way of preventing you from doing something worse to yourself. There are as many reasons to cut as there are people who do it. But that made sense to me. After all, I never ever wanted to end my life. I simply wanted to do something so that my outside would reflect the emotional hemorrhage that was taking place inside. So that the people who loved me would see and help me do something about it.

God am I lucky they did. I am so lucky that my parents helped me find someone I could talk to. I am blessed that my husband, my family and friends helped me find the way forward when those knives began to sing their sweet seductive song to me again.

I am glad I know now that their song, for me, does not mean I want to die. For me it means that something is out of balance, that I am feeling overwhelmed in a way that is not healthy, that I need a release and I’m struggling to find it.

I had a story I told myself about why I started therapy. And it’s possible that my anxiety and fear about leaving home played into why I was so miserable in the first place. But I’m glad my mother reminded me about the other part. Because that’s the part people don’t talk about too much. That’s the part that most of my friends and family would be surprised by. I’m funny and loud and extroverted, calm and capable and communicative. Even I was surprised to remember the truth about myself. But if I’ve learned nothing else, and I’ve learned plenty, from living through anxiety and depression it’s that when you talk about it, everyone talks about it. All of a sudden, people you may not even know that well are telling you about their favorite meds or their latest diagnosis.

And the more we talk, the less lonely we feel. The less attached we are to the idea that any kind of normal exists and that we are somehow on the outside of that group.

————

You can find Sashi at wwww.sashikaufman.com . Her next book, Wired Man and Other Freaks of Nature, comes out this September.

wiredmanPublisher’s Book Description

Ben Wireman is partially deaf and completely insecure. The only two things that make him feel normal are being a soccer goalie and hanging out with his best friend, Tyler.

Tyler Nuson is the golden boy, worshiped by girls and guys alike. But Tyler’s golden facade is cracking, and the dark secrets hidden behind it are oozing to the surface. Ben has no idea what to do when Tyler’s memories of their past start poisoning everything, including their friendship.

Enter Ilona Pierce. With tattoos, blue hair, and almost no friends, she’s exactly the kind of weirdo Ben has tried to avoid his entire life. But without Tyler, Ben isn’t sure who he is anymore, and maybe, just maybe, hanging out with a freak is what he needs.

Wired Man and Other Freaks of Nature is a captivating and compelling story about the shifting dynamics between two best friends during their senior year in high school, as their loyalty to each other is tested by betrayal, secrets, girls, and the complex art of growing up. (Carolrholda Labs, September 2016)

Book Review: How It Ends by Catherine Lo

Publisher’s description

how it endsThere are two sides to every story.
It’s friends-at-first-sight for Jessie and Annie, proving the old adage that opposites attract. Shy, anxious Jessie would give anything to have Annie’s beauty and confidence. And Annie thinks Jessie has the perfect life, with her close-knit family and killer grades. They’re BFFs . . . until suddenly they’re not. Told through alternating points of view, How It Ends is the story of a friendship from first meeting to breakup, set against a tumultuous sophomore year of bullying, boys, and backstabbing.

Catherine Lo makes her debut with an honest, nuanced tale about the intricacies of female friendship.

 

 

Amanda‘s thoughts

I always want more YA friendship stories. Friendship, especially in high school, can be so messy. You can grow close so fast, or get ditched, or have fights, or change friend groups, or be obsessed with each other. There’s a lot of ebb and flow to teen friendships. Lo captures all of those things in this look at Jessie and Annie’s sophomore year.

 

Smart, studious Jessie suffers from “terminal loneliness.” Made into an outcast by her former friend and now mean girl, Courtney, Jessie has put up with years of being called “Lezzie Longbottom” and being otherwise ignored by her classmates. Isolated Jessie has anxiety, depression, and frequent panic attacks. Her mother has done a lot to try to “fix” Jessie over the years–therapists, medication, etc–everything, that is, except really talk to her. Jessie feigns interest in video games and comics so she can linger on the periphery of a group at lunchtime, but hasn’t had a real friend in years.

 

Annie is new to town and hates her new life in suburbia. She doesn’t get along with her new stepmom and her stepsister basically ignores her. Annie spies Jessie that first day at school and thinks she’s “beautifully uncool.” That’s all it takes to draw her to Jessie. Jessie thinks Annie is the coolest person ever and can’t understand why she’d want to be friends with her. The girls instantly become best friends. But before long, Annie grows friendly with the girls who’ve bullied Jessie in the past and starts to pull away from Jessie. “We don’t have to do everything together,” she tells her.

 

During their time drifting apart, both girls experience big things. Annie begins to date Scott, who Jessie has a crush on (and a lot of STUFF goes on with that relationship). Jessie’s anxiety, depression, and panic attacks ramp up. She’s constantly sneaking pills to help calm her down. It’s her own prescription, but her mother keeps the pills locked up and doles them out sparingly, the idea being that Jessie should learn how to cope with her anxiety, not need pills to get her through the things that make her anxious (like sitting with the mean girls at lunch). Jessie’s mental health issues become a big part of the story. She desperately wants to keep her issues a secret (a feeling that no doubt stems from her mother’s less-than-helpful understanding of anxiety, being medicated, and feeling ashamed). Her mother encourages her to tell Annie what’s going on to help “explain” some of how she’s been behaving. Yes, her anxiety colors some of how she behaves and reacts, but her mother seems to think that Jessie’s mental health struggles are responsible for the fallout of this friendship. As you might guess, I don’t really love how mental health is addressed here. Her mother goes about things in the wrong way. She’s encouraging shame and stigma and the notion that needing medication is some kind of failing. Then, her mother makes a REALLY BAD CHOICE and suddenly Jessie’s secret is out. And before long, Annie’s big secret is out too (avoiding spoilers here, people). Both girls become victims of rumors and gossip (in high school? No way!) and make repeated attempts to reconcile their friendship, but it isn’t that simple anymore.

 

For the most part, I liked this book. I did want to see more of just how Annie and Jessie become so close. They’re kind of instantly and inexplicably drawn to each other (which definitely happens in real life) and we’re told they’re best friends, but I wanted to see more of how that happened. We know time passes because we’re told it does, but I felt like we missed huge chunks of the time they’re growing closer. I did appreciate how swiftly and thoroughly their friendship fell apart—that felt very real—and getting to see how each girl reacted and what each did while not friends with the other. I really felt for Annie and the things she has to go through basically alone and the way she ends up very ostracized and angry. I also empathized with Jessie, who is more or less all alone without Annie and uncertain how to get through her days without panic attacks taking over. The girls’ story isn’t simple—it’s not like they’re friends and then they’re just not. Lo presents a nuanced look at friendship and shows how their pasts and their home lives affect them. A thoughtful look at the ways friendships can start, end, and all the things in between.

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780544540064

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Publication date: 06/07/2016

#MHYALit: What You Want to Hear, a guest post by Shari Goldhagen

MHYALitlogoofficfial

In 100 Days of Cake, Molly has a, um, confused relationship with her therapist. Her friends and family love her and would love to fix her, but they don’t really understand what she’s going through, so a lot of times—like when her mom decides to bake all the cakes—their efforts aren’t particularly helpful and then Molly ends up feeling even worse because then she’s feel guilty for wasting everyone’s time. But Dr. Brooks understands depression and anxiety; he just gets Molly . . .

 

That would be great, except that Molly is so jazzed that someone finally likes her even when she’s not forcing her face into an unnatural smile, that she starts to notice how square and stately Dr. B’s jawline is and how he looks all nice and muscle-y under his polo shirts. . . . She wants to make sure he keeps on liking her no matter what. And because his interest is always piqued when she talks about her parents, she’ll gladly invent some memories of her dead dad if that keeps Dr. B looking at her intensely with those smoldering eyes.

 

I’ve never crushed on my therapist the way Molly does, but I have had that impulse to want to make my therapists like me. . . or find me horribly interesting and complicated in a good way. Maybe everyone in therapy feels this way, but I also wonder if it has to do with how and where I grew up.

 

Currently I live in Manhattan, where everyone is in therapy or looking for a new therapist, and it’s not uncommon to ask even the most casual of acquaintances to recommend a good shrink. But I grew up in suburban Cincinnati and analysis was NOT all the rage. In high school the only person I knew who had ever been to a psychologist was my boyfriend (his mom was a native New Yorker), and I found it exotic and vaguely disturbing—like his involvement in a popular youth group, it seemed a possible reason we might not ultimately be a great fit.

 

The summer I graduated from Northwestern, however, I found myself prone on the couch starring at the ceiling a good chunk of the day. Boyfriend had ended up being a pretty good fit (for a while) and we’d stayed together despite going to schools in separate states, he wanted us to move somewhere together, but those decisions seemed too big. A restaurant trade magazine offered me a job based on work I’d done in my college newspaper (the economy was that good then), but every morning I would say a silent prayer to someone that the elevator would get stuck before I got to the office. It wasn’t that the job was awful; it wasn’t. It wasn’t that in school I’d written a novel as my thesis and boatloads of stories I cared about deeply for the college paper; at the magazine I wrote about commercial ovens and new frozen appetizers.  Boyfriend was the one who suggested I talk to someone; my job had health insurance, so I made an appointment with the first person in the Blue Cross/Blue Shield directory.

 

“I can’t really help you,” Therapist One said about a half hour into our session. “You’re just bored.”

 

Bored was doodling on a notebook during a micro econ lecture; crying in the closet each morning and crippling indecisiveness seemed an entirely different beast.

 

“You need to volunteer,” Therapist One said.

 

I didn’t do that. I made an appointment with therapist Two.

 

On the way to her sleek and shiny office, I got lost. By the time I showed up, I was flustered and sweaty and ten minutes late. She asked me to explain why I was seeking treatment, but stopped me few minutes in and told me I was a textbook case for severe anxiety

 

“You were able to make it through school?” she asked incredulously, as if I were a dog who had mastered three languages and figured out nuclear fusion.

 

“I had straight As,” I shot back.  That wasn’t technically true. . .like at all. But I’d had an A – average and the reason I didn’t have straight A’s probably had a lot more do with watching Real World marathons with my roommates than crippling anxiety.

 

Therapist Two wanted to “try” me on a cocktail of anti-depressants and anxiety meds. Before she could write the scripts, however, I’d have to get a lot of blood work done at the lab next door.  I wasn’t a fan of having blood work done; I wasn’t a fan of the way she’d decided that I was a puddle unfit for college. Maybe I just needed to volunteer? (For the record, I’m not against meds, and have benefitted them at other points in my life; I just wasn’t a fan of her deciding that five minutes after meeting me).

 

I threw away the lab form, and went down the Blue Cross/Blue Shield psychologist list.

 

Like some Woody Allan retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Therapist Three was just right! To her I wasn’t some bored privileged kid who needed to think beyond herself; Nor was I a basket case that needed an IV of pharmaceuticals to eat Cheerios. No, she got me. As I explained why I was seeking treatment she nodded. She asked follow up questions! She took copious notes!

 

“What you’re going through is called an Early Life Crisis,” she explained. “I’m writing a book on the subject.”

 

It had a name! Everything she said was like being clobbered off the head with one of those cartoon idea light bulbs. Struggling to define a new place after success in college. Unclear about how to proceed with existing relationships. Lack of direction.

 

She liked me!  And I wanted her to keep liking me—not because I had romantic fantasies about her the way Molly does with Dr. Brooks—but because it felt nice to have someone take me seriously.

 

Most of the things I told her were true. But then I found myself starting to tweak things a teeny tiny bit into what I thought she wanted to hear. After I told her a story about a recent fight I’d had with a male friend, she nodded enthusiastically. “So he was kind of like a brother figure?” she asked.

 

Not unless your brother hit on you a lot. “Yeah,” I said, and then twisted a few stories to better fit that narrative.

 

“And your parents put a lot of pressure on you?” She asked.

 

Nope. “Definitely.” And then a few more invented childhood stories.

 

She was writing a book, and that was something I actually knew about (as opposed to commercial blenders), I’d spent college learning how to create compelling characters and plots that had a beginning, middle and end. It got to the point where I would whip up tales in advance based on what Therapist Three seemed most interested in during prior sessions—it was important to me that I help with her book.

 

After a few months, I maxed out my insurance plan’s allotted sessions. Frankly it was a relief. Therapist Three definitely helped me, but looking back I can’t help but wonder how much more effective she could have been if I’d stayed completely truthful with her.

 

The experience was definitely something I wanted to touch on in 100 Days of Cake. Therapy can be amazing, but it can also be hard to navigate, especially for a young adult who’s unfamiliar with the process.

 

Different practitioners are going to have different approaches, and it’s crucial to find one that you’re comfortable with. And when you do, it’s key that you not worry about that person judging you. Dr. B. is a very flawed therapist, but he’s right when he tells Molly that therapy only works if you’re honest with your doctor.

 

Meet Shari Goldhagen

Shari side small (1)Shari Goldhagen is the author of the novels IN SOME OTHER WORLD, MAYBE (St. Martin’s Press, 2015) and FAMILY AND OTHER ACCIDENTS (Doubleday, 2006), and the YA novel 100 DAYS OF CAKE (Atheneum, 2016). A fellow at both Yaddo and MacDowell, Shari writes about pop culture, travel and relationships for publications including Salon, Cosmopolitan, Us Weekly, Life & Style Weekly, and DaySpa. She lives in NYC with her husband and daughter. Find her online at http://sharigoldhagen.com and @sharigoldhagen.

 

 

 

About 100 Days of Cake

100 daysGet well soon isn’t going to cut it in this quirky and poignant debut novel about a girl, her depression, an aggressive amount of baked goods, and the struggle to simply stay afloat in an unpredictable, bittersweet life.

Every other senior at Cove High School might be mapping out every facet of their future, but Molly Bryne just wants to spend the rest of the summer (maybe the rest of her life) watchingGolden Girls reruns and hanging out with her cute coworker at FishTopia. Some days, they are the only things that get her out of bed. You see, for the past year, Molly’s been struggling with depression, above and beyond industry-standard teen angst. Crushing on her therapist isn’t helping, and neither is her mom, who is convinced that baking the perfect cake will cure her—as if icing alone can magically make her rejoin the swim team or care about the SATs.

Ummm, no, not going to happen.

But when Molly finds out FishTopia is turning into a lame country diner, her already crummy life starts to fall even more out of her control, and soon she has to figure out what— if anything—is worth fighting for. 100 Days of Cake is a quirky and poignant story of a girl, her depression, an aggressive amount of baked goods, and the struggle to simply stay afloat in an unpredictable, bittersweet world.

ISBN-13: 9781481448567

Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Publication date: 05/17/2016

#MHYALit: Writing a Therapy-Positive Book, a guest post by Marisa Reichardt

MHYALitlogoofficfial

Today we are honored to share a guest post by author Marisa Reichardt. You can read my review of Marisa’s book, Underwater, here. For an index of all of the posts in our Mental Health in YA Literature project, please visit our #MHYALit hub

 

 

I’ve been terrified to write this blog post.

 

I’m not an expert when it comes to mental health. What if I say something wrong? Or what if I say something truthful and real but it gets misinterpreted? But then I remember I had those same fears when writing Underwater. And it was exactly those fears that made me push myself.

 

So here I am.

 

Like my main character Morgan Grant in Underwater, I am not a stranger to anxiety. I am not a stranger to needing therapy. I am not a stranger to having emergency pills in my medicine cabinet for the extra rough days.

 

But it wasn’t always that way. When I was in high school, I didn’t know what was happening to me when I had a panic attack that was so bad I thought I was dying. I didn’t know because I didn’t talk about it. I felt like I couldn’t.

 

In the middle of my worst attacks, I would drag a sleeping bag into my brother’s room and sleep on the floor just so I didn’t have to be alone. Just so I could hear someone else breathing.

 

I was a teenager who needed therapy and didn’t have it.

 

When I was in high school, people didn’t talk about mental health the way they do now. So I accepted there was something inherently wrong with me. That there was nothing I could do about the way I felt. I tried to embrace what my mother and friends told me—that I was “too emotional” or just needed to “get over it” when it came to the things that triggered me. As a result, I kept the nervous energy inside of me until it manifested in stomachaches and throwing up at sleepovers.

 

But how did this all start for me? I think it was when my father passed away from cancer when I was in fourth grade. It was traumatic and terrifying and he was horribly and painfully sick for two years. I was too young to fully comprehend what was happening but since my brother was even younger, I somehow became the mature one. I was the one who could handle it. The one who had to be there for my sibling because my mom and dad were too busy dealing with the thing that would change our lives forever.

 

I was a kid who needed grief counseling and didn’t have it.

 

It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I found therapy on my own. I talked. I began to heal. I tried things like biofeedback and meditation. But I am still seeking because therapy isn’t a one and done journey. Sometimes you have to find your way back to it. Life is dynamic and unexpected. This debut author experience has made it clear that I need to find someone to talk to again. And I will.

 

Because therapy isn’t a dirty secret.

 

The most important thing to me in writing Underwater was to write a therapy-positive book because therapy literally saves lives. I could’ve used it as a kid. I could’ve used it as a teenager. I’m glad I found it as an adult. But even though I’ve had my own personal experiences with therapy and anxiety, I knew it wasn’t enough for me to think I could tackle a whole book about it just because I’d been there. For Underwater, I interviewed a psychologist who works specifically with women and teen girls who struggle with anxiety and agoraphobia. Her feedback became crucial to me throughout the writing process.

 

The result was a book of my heart. I’m glad I wrote what scares me. I’m glad I took this journey with Morgan and got to know Brenda. My world became bigger. My understanding went deeper. Writing Underwater helped me feel less alone.

 

I hope it will help others feel less alone too.

 

Meet Marisa Reichardt

Marisa Reichardt_highresMarisa Reichardt is a SoCal native who has paid the bills by shucking oysters, waiting tables, peddling swimwear, tutoring, and writing. She currently lives in Los Angeles with her family and can usually be found huddled over her laptop in coffeehouses or swimming in the ocean. She has a Master of Professional Writing degree from the University of Southern California and dual undergraduate degrees in literature and creative writing from UC San Diego. Underwater is her debut novel. Find her online at her website marisareichardt.com, on Twitter @youngadultish, on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/YoungAdultish, and on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/marisareichardtbooks/

 

About UNDERWATER

Morgan didn’t mean to do anything wrong that day. Actually, she meant to do something right. But her kind act inadvertently played a role in a deadly tragedy. In order to move on, Morgan must learn to forgive-first someone who did something that might be unforgivable, and then, herself. But Morgan can’t move on. She can’t even move beyond the front door of the apartment she shares with her mother and little brother. Morgan feels like she’s underwater, unable to surface. Unable to see her friends. Unable to go to school. When it seems Morgan can’t hold her breath any longer, a new boy moves in next door. Evan reminds her of the salty ocean air and the rush she used to get from swimming. He might be just what she needs to help her reconnect with the world outside. Underwater is a powerful, hopeful debut novel about redemption, recovery, and finding the strength it takes to face your past and move on.

ISBN-13: 9780374368869

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Publication date: 01/12/2016

Book Review: Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

symptomsPublisher’s description:

Riley Cavanaugh is many things: Punk rock. Snarky. Rebellious. And gender fluid. Some days Riley identifies as a boy, and others as a girl. But Riley isn’t exactly out yet. And between starting a new school and having a congressman father running for reelection in über-conservative Orange County, the pressure—media and otherwise—is building up in Riley’s life.

On the advice of a therapist, Riley starts an anonymous blog to vent those pent-up feelings and tell the truth of what it’s really like to be a gender fluid teenager. But just as Riley’s starting to settle in at school—even developing feelings for a mysterious outcast—the blog goes viral, and an unnamed commenter discovers Riley’s real identity, threatening exposure. And Riley must make a choice: walk away from what the blog has created—a lifeline, new friends, a cause to believe in—or stand up, come out, and risk everything.

From debut author Jeff Garvin comes a powerful and uplifting portrait of a modern teen struggling with high school, relationships, and what it means to be a person.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Well, that extremely thorough summary up there really hits most of the main pieces of this story. This is 100% the story of a gender fluid teen. That fact is at the heart of every piece of this plot. We read the term “gender fluid” over and over again as we learn exactly what that means to Riley. Readers who are unfamiliar with what being gender fluid means (or means to one person) will walk away with a pretty complex picture of this identity .

 

Riley is starting at a new school. Riley’s father is a congressman, which matters because he’s up for re-election and needs Riley to attend fundraisers and help his campaign by not rocking the boat further. Riley has recently attempted suicide and had a recovery stint in a psychiatric hospital. Riley’s anxiety  and panic attacks are still a constant, but medication and therapy are helping with that. Riley hopes to start over at the new school, but is instantly called “it” or “tranny” and other slurs. “Is that a girl, or a guy?” kids whisper in the hall. It would appear that judgmental teenagers looking to figure out how they should categorize a person are all over the place. Go figure.

 

Riley makes two good friends, Solo (Jason Solomona) and Bec (self-named because of her prominent nose, “bec” being French for “beak”), though their friendships start out tenuously. Riley starts an anonymous blog as a way to connect with “people like me,” a suggestion from Riley’s therapist. The blog quickly gains traffic, especially after one of Riley’s replies to a reader goes viral when something unexpected happens. Riley is scared that someone will discover the blog and out Riley, but the community found there is too good to turn away from. Of course, you can probably see where this is going, right? Riley’s dad is a high-profile congressman. Riley is already being bullied at school. Riley isn’t out to Riley’s parents yet. Expect things to fall apart, especially when it appears that Riley has a stalker on the blog who may know Riley’s true identity.

 

I really liked this book for a lot of reasons. Riley spends a lot of time talking/thinking about being gender fluid. Riley talks about feeling neutral, or feeling more “boy” or “girl” on certain days, or “both” or “neither.” Riley talks about the body dysphoria and the various ways it makes Riley feel when Riley shifts between identities. There is a lot going on here about gender, identity, and assumptions, not just with Riley but with some secondary characters in the book, both at the support group Riley attends and at school. Solo and Bec are great characters—particularly Solo (who refers to himself as “the three-hundred-pound brown kid with the furry Chewbacca backpack”). He’s an absolutely fantastic character. Part of the football team, Solo, who initially really seemed to connect with Riley, falls to the pressure of his jerk peers. He doesn’t make fun of Riley or hurl slurs, but he distances himself from Riley and doesn’t stand up to his peers right away. It doesn’t take long for him to ditch that attitude, though, and be a real friend to Riley. As far as enemies go, the biggest one is Jim Vickers, the football-playing a-hole who goes out of his way to bully and threaten Riley. Things go from bad to worse (to really, really a lot worse) with him.

 

Riley’s anxiety and panic attacks are also described in great detail. We see Riley getting help through therapy, medication (complete with adjusting doses as things change and having backup medication for the particularly bad moments), and learning techniques to try to stave off anxiety—things like deep breathing, visualization, and more. We see how horrible the panic attacks can be. Riley is open about them and their affects. Mental health issues are also addressed with the character of Bec’s mom, who is deeply depressed after a tragic incident in their family.

 

Though the novel is about a lot of very serious things, Riley’s wry humor and easy banter with Bec and Solo help lighten the tone. Though Riley struggles with coming to terms with this identity and sharing it with others, Riley has a lot of support. Riley has compassionate friends, a caring online community, people in the support group who can relate, and loving (if sometimes judgmental and not understanding) parents.

 

The novel starts with a blog post. “The first thing you’re going to want to know about me is: Am I a boy, or am I a girl.” Of course, since Riley is gender fluid, we know those labels don’t apply or only sometimes apply. Garvin manages to successfully avoid all pronouns for Riley or any other indications of what gender Riley was assigned at birth, helping drive home points about identity. An author’s note discusses where the idea for this book came from as well as offers resources on gender identity, anxiety, and depression. I have many pages of notes on this book and feel like this is a really rambling review, but there was just so much going on in this book. Here’s the takeaway from this review: THIS GREAT BOOK WITH A GENDER FLUID MAIN CHARACTER EXISTS. IT’S GREAT. THE WRITING IS GREAT. LOTS OF STUFF HAPPENS. THERE IS A LOT TO THINK ABOUT. GO GET IT!

Riley’s story is an important one and one we haven’t seen much of yet in YA. I hope The Symptoms of Being Human finds it way to the shelves of every library that serves teenagers. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062382863

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 02/02/2016

 

Sunday Reflections: Mental health medications are not your enemy

On Tuesday, I’ll be sharing my review of The Last Time We Say Goodbye, by Cynthia Hand. For the most part, it was a book I really liked. But I had one MAJOR issue with it: the main character’s attitude toward taking medicine to help with the panic attacks and depression she’s feeling in the wake of her brother’s suicide.

 

After Alexis, the main character, tells her therapist about her panic attacks, he says, “There’s a medication we can get you for that.” He goes on to tell her about SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), and she refers to as him “waxing poetically about drugs.” Alexis goes on to explain Brave New World to him, telling him about soma, the drug that’s supposed to make everyone happy in the book. She says, “That futuristic society where everybody is drugged to be happy, all the time, no matter what happens–it’s horrible–monstrous, even–it’s like the end of humanity. Because we are supposed to feel things, Dave. My brother died, and I’m supposed to feel it.” She also reveals that her brother, Ty, had taken antidepressants for two years and “a fat lot of good it did him.” Alexis calls Dave a “drug pusher.” So, giving up on this train of thought, Dave instead prescribes her to write in a diary. This attitude of being anti-medicine, of medicine not letting you “feel” whatever it is you are supposed to feel remains consistent through the whole book. 

 

Here’s my issue: I like medicine. I believe in medicine. It’s what’s kept me a mostly functioning human being for 19 years. I have generalized anxiety disorder. If I didn’t take the host of pills in my cabinet every day, I would probably do nothing but obsessively ruminate my way through worrying about every single issue that has ever and may ever occur in the history and future of humanity. I would not be able to get anything done because I’d be too busy listening to my brain obliterate every good thought or idea I have. I would be busy listening to the lies that my unmedicated brain loves to make up–everything is actually awful, nothing good will ever happen, everything good is actually bad, etc. I would not be able to drive my car, because of my terror of being trapped in a moving metal box and my distrust of everyone navigating their little metal boxes (a fear that existed long before my dad was killed in a car accident two years ago). I would not be able to parent my kid because I’d be too busy crying and panicking and falling apart. I would not be able to sleep because nighttime is anxiety’s favorite time to eat my brain. The list goes on forever. The bottom line is that I would not be able to. Just to. To anything.

 

At the library, I spent a fair amount of my day hearing from my teen friends about their own mental health struggles. Being readily approachable and being a mandated reporter, I’d listen to them, give them a book either reflecting their experience or distracting them from it, and then turning around, filing a report, and worrying about them. The common theme in all of their stories: they didn’t want to be put on a medication. What I always, always, ALWAYS did was tell them that I have taken medication forever for my anxiety. That some days are terrible and I take three different medications just to be able to function. That going on medicine was hands down the best choice I made for myself in my entire life. I don’t walk around feeling terrible. I sleep. I breathe. I don’t usually have panic attacks. The kraken that is mental illness can’t reach its nasty tentacles quite as far into my brain because of medication. 

 

I know my teenage attitude was also, “Oh, I would never want to be on medication. It just makes you a zombie.” Apparently my teenage self thought being a complete basket case was preferable. It’s not. Medicine isn’t your enemy. Untreated mental illness is your enemy. Therapy is fantastic, but therapy combined with the right medicine–that’s your ticket. Getting help, in all forms, is good. Being open to help, in all forms, is good. It is good, it is necessary, and it is OKAY. If your medicine makes you feel funky, keep trying other medicines. Something will help.

 

I so deeply dislike and worry about the message in this book: Ty took meds and he still killed himself, so they don’t work. Alexis claims to generally not feel anything at all. “I don’t need drugs to numb the pain.” She has panic attacks and suffers terrible dreams for weeks after her brother dies. When her mother offers her a Valium, Alexis barks at her, “What is it with people trying to force-feed me drugs?” The only time she even in passing considers medication is when she’s having a panic attack at school and thinks “maybe this drug thing Dave suggested isn’t a bad idea after all.”  Alexis is an extremely smart girl. She excels in math and science and will be attending MIT, but she has a fundamental misunderstanding about mental health medicines.

 

An author’s note at the end explains that Hand’s brother committed suicide when they were teens. What I really wanted at the end was also some kind of list of helpful resources (helplines etc) or acknowledgement that while Alexis chose not to take any medications, they can greatly help people suffering from a variety of mental health issues. Do I think all books need to be instructional? Of course not. But I don’t like seeing a very common notion about medication perpetuated in a book like this. The best thing we can do to help not just teenagers but everyone suffering from mental illnesses is to be open and honest, to remove the stigma (of the illnesses and the various treatments), and offer hope. For many teens, the only places they might find these conversations may be in books. Let’s not let them walk away thinking, See? I told you. Nothing can help.

There is help. 

 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

The Trevor Project hotline 1-866-488-7386

Trans Lifeline 1-877-565-8860

 

As always, we welcome your thoughts. Talk to us in the comments or you can find me on Twitter–I’m @CiteSomething.