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Kids Can Handle Big Decisions . . . If the Adults Get Out of the Way (But Also Don’t), a guest post by Kirstin Cronn-Mills

(CW: Assisted suicide.)

First, a million thanks to Teen Librarian Toolbox for hosting me. I appreciate your work so much!

(Important note: this blog post can’t tackle the social and legal issues around assisted suicide. Too much complexity for 900 words. We’re just gonna go with it.)

Lake Superior, Duluth, MN, where WRECK takes place. Photo credit: Kelly Tekler

Lake Superior, Duluth, MN, where WRECK takes place. Photo credit: Kelly Tekler

In Wreck, Tobin has a lot of choices to make—ones most high school juniors don’t generally make, thank goodness. She’s choosing what to do with her future, which is typical, but she also has to choose how to interact with her dad, Steve. Thanks to his ALS, which is complicated by frontotemporal dementia, he’s unpredictable on his best days and impossible on his worst. Is she going to be a crabby teenager, or will she show him compassion (or will she do both, which seems pretty traditional for a teenager, as well as what most humans would do)?

Eventually she also has to choose what to do (and how to feel) when Steve makes decisions about his own death. Steve’s choice is an awful thing for her to face—it’s an awful thing for a grown-up to face—but she legally becomes a criminal when she helps him carry out his wish to be free. That’s a heavy and unnecessary burden for a seventeen-year-old.

I can hear the outraged voices now: she’s too young for such a difficult choice! She can’t make such an adult decision! She has no idea what she’s doing!

Um. No, she’s not. Yes, she can. Yes, she does.

Yes, Tobin is young. No, human brains don’t mature until they’re in their mid-twenties. But Tobin understands a lot about two fundamental parts of being human: she knows about love, and she knows about loss.

Fundamentally, Tobin makes her decision to help her dad out of love, because they have loved each other fiercely for all of Tobin’s life, and she wants him to be out of both physical and mental pain. Her knowledge of loss is more of a mystery to the reader (and to her, really): she doesn’t acknowledge the large loss she’s already suffered, nor that it’s affected her in more ways than she’ll cop to. However, when it comes down to her decision to help Steve, she knows more than most of us because she’s lived with loss for much of her life. She knows she can cope.

Action figures are a part of WRECK, too!

Action figures are a part of WRECK, too!

What carries Tobin through all of her grief—including her decision—is the love of people older than her who help her make these big decisions. She has her great-uncle Paul, who clearly values her (and also understands loss), and she has Ike, a family friend who becomes a brother. Especially with Ike, Tobin can sort things out, feel her feelings, and figure out what’s next.

Tobin is also allowed to make decisions—which isn’t something all teens get to do. She isn’t forced into anything (with the exception of who will be her guardian, once Steve isn’t), and she isn’t sheltered from her dad’s choice. She has the knowledge she needs about the situation, and she responds to Steve out of love and understanding, rather than duty or a forced adherence to convention.

This is one of the ways kids become caring adults—first, they’re influenced by people who model both caring behavior and critical thinking, and second, they’re surrounded by safety. Tobin is safe to explore her thoughts and feelings with Steve, Paul, and Ike, and that safety allows her to come to her empathetic decision.

When I started writing for teens, I committed to giving my protagonists an older person they could rely on, because I had a couple in my high school years—a person who’s not a parent, usually. In Sky, Morgan has her grandma. In Beautiful Music, Gabe has his neighbor John. In Original Fake, Frankie has his boss and idol, Uncle Epic. Tobin has the same thing in Ike and Paul. Teenagers need to see evidence that not all grown-ups are assholes (if they are inclined to think they are), and that there are people interested in what they have to say. Some adults actually do recognize that yeah, teens are learning, but they’re pretty smart to start with.

If Tobin was a real person, she wouldn’t be able to recognize all the implications of her choice right away. A grown-up might not even be able to do that. But I don’t think she’d regret her choice, because she was helping someone she loves be free of pain. Hopefully Real Tobin would also have the support of those who love her, and they’d affirm her decision, even as they were sad about it. I know lots of teens and young adults who’ve been in really tough situations. Those who’ve come through it have been the ones with a circle of caring folks around them. Book Tobin does what she does, even though it will devastate her, because it’s the right thing to do, and because she’s got support.

There’s all the difference in the world between being forced into the fight and walking in with your head held high. Steve chooses. Tobin chooses. We all deserve that right.

Meet Kirstin Cronn-Mills

kirstinKirstin Cronn-Mills writes young adult novels and nonfiction for high school libraries. Her books have received both state and national recognition. She lives in southern Minnesota with her family, where she teaches and wishes she lived closer to Lake Superior.
Find her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

About WRECK

wreckSometimes loss has its own timetable.

Set on the shores of Lake Superior, Wreck follows high school junior Tobin Oliver as she navigates her father’s diagnosis of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

Steve’s life as a paramedic and a runner comes to an abrupt halt just as Tobin is preparing her application for a scholarship to art school. With the help of Steve’s personal care assistant (and family friend) Ike, Tobin attends to both her photography and to Steve as his brain unexpectedly fails right along with his body.

Tobin struggles to find a “normal” life, especially as Steve makes choices about how his own will end, and though she fights hard, Tobin comes to realize that respecting her father’s decision is the ultimate act of love.

Wreck wrecked me. Kirstin Cronn-Mills has a singular way of getting inside characters heads and making their stories come to life. This book will make you cry.” —Bill Konigsberg, award-winning author of The Music of What Happens?

“A provocative, unflinching, and emotionally-complex deep dive into mortality and loss while Tobin and her father grapple with almost unfathomable decisions. A wrenching and empathetic look at the tumultuous waters and seemingly bottomless grief that can interrupt an otherwise placid life.” —Amanda MacGregor, Teen Librarian Toolbox

“This book has heart and empathy as vast and deep as the Great Lake on which it’s set.” —Geoff Herbach, award-winning author of Stupid Fast and Hooper

“Every so often a book comes along that is so sharp, so moving, so real, and so good, you want to press it into everyone’s hands and say, Read this! READ THIS!” —Courtney Summers, author of Cracked Up to Be, on Beautiful Music for Ugly Children

“A kind and satisfyingly executed portrait.” —Kirkus Reviews

ISBN-13: 9781510739031
Publisher: Sky Pony
Publication date: 04/16/2019

See Amanda’s review here

Book Review: Wreck by Kirstin Cronn-Mills

Publisher’s description

wreckSometimes loss has its own timetable.

Set on the shores of Lake Superior, Wreck follows high school junior Tobin Oliver as she navigates her father’s diagnosis of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

Steve’s life as a paramedic and a runner comes to an abrupt halt just as Tobin is preparing her application for a scholarship to art school. With the help of Steve’s personal care assistant (and family friend) Ike, Tobin attends to both her photography and to Steve as his brain unexpectedly fails right along with his body.

Tobin struggles to find a “normal” life, especially as Steve makes choices about how his own will end, and though she fights hard, Tobin comes to realize that respecting her father’s decision is the ultimate act of love.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Full disclosure: Kirstin is my friend and I blurbed this book. For the tl;dr version of this review, here’s my blurb:

 

Kirstin Cronn-Mills takes readers on a provocative, unflinching, and emotionally-complex deep dive into mortality and loss while Tobin and her father grapple with almost unfathomable decisions. A wrenching and empathetic look at the tumultuous waters and seemingly bottomless grief that can interrupt an otherwise placid life.

 

When Tobin’s father, Steve, is diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), everything changes. ALS is a progressive, degenerative disease. While some things may slow the progression of the disease, there is no cure. ALS involves paralysis, eventually affecting breathing and swallowing. It’s junior year and Tobin should be hanging out with her few friends, preparing her photography portfolio for scholarships for art school, working at her aunt’s thrift shop down in Canal Park in Duluth, and just going about life as she has come to know it. But the diagnosis throws everything into disarray. Steve’s disease is rapidly changing his body and his brain. Ike, a family friend and former Army medic, moves in to be Steve’s personal care assistant. Tobin’s mom took off years ago, so it’s really always just been Tobin and her dad. They know that before long, Steve will die, leaving Tobin in the care of her aunt until she’s no longer a minor, then on her own.

 

The question becomes what do you do in the time between getting a devastating and terminal diagnosis and actually dying? For Steve, he continues to socialize, help work on the marathon committee, and writes a book of advice to leave behind for Tobin. For Tobin, she tries to bury her heart deep in Lake Superior, which feels like the only way she can keep going and cope with this horrible situation. To complicate matters further, there’s a box in their house that’s haunting her. Inside that innocuous-looking box is pentobarbital, a barbiturate that Steve intends to take a high dose of to end his life, on his terms, when the time is right. And if he’s physically unable to do so on his own, he’s asked Tobin to be the one to administer the medicine.

 

Yep. Oof.

 

For both Tobin and her father, their lives are nothing like what they had imagined them to be like. The grief that comes with accepting this diagnosis and Steve’s eventual death is heart-wrenching. Having lost my own father very suddenly in a car accident, I don’t know if there is a “good” way to have a parent die—unexpectedly, where you have no time to prepare, or slowly, where you have lots of time to anticipate and watch someone ail. I think it’s terrible no matter what the circumstance. For Steve, his personality changes are ROUGH. He vacillates between loving and his usual self to angry, mean, hateful, and uncontrolled. It goes with the territory with ALS, but that doesn’t make it easy for Tobin to experience or easy to read. No matter how hard Tobin tries to protect her heart, she can’t. The grief, the waiting, the unpredictability, the potential to have to help her father die—it’s all too much. Trying to have no feelings about something that causes BIG feelings is impossible. We know where this story is going and how it will end. It is an unrelentingly sad plot, punctuated by brief moments of joy, whimsy, and always by plenty of love. 

 

Undoubtedly, the narrative of death with dignity–that is, the right for terminally ill people to die on their own terms—will create passionate feelings about this book and possibly some controversy. That said, the plot makes it clear why this can be a compassionate act, why someone would choose this option. Steve and Tobin’s story is filled with lots of nuance, empathy, support, and love. This is a moving exploration of mortality, family, and impossibly difficult decisions.

 

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781510739031
Publisher: Sky Pony
Publication date: 04/16/2019

Book Review: Dig by A. S. King, an important reflection on white privilege in YA literature

digPublisher’s Book Description:

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

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

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

This book will be released in March 2019. I read an ARC that I received via the publisher. ISBN: 9781101994917

Karen’s Thoughts:

I just finished reading an ARC of DIG by A. S. King and my mind is blown, as it always is. And I mean I just literally finished reading it. I closed the pages and had to sit down at my computer and talk about this book. It’s a little early to be talking about this book, but talk about it I must. No spoilers.

A. S. King is one of those authors that adults always say teens aren’t reading, in part because they’re always underestimating teens. They say this at the same time that they assign things in class like Kafka’s Metamorphosis or Shakespeare or Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. There is some real disconnect in the way that adults talk about teens. They often under-estimate them and have zero to little faith in them. Teens know this; they know that many of the adults who claim to love them or value them or be in the process of educating them are doing very few of those things because they don’t actually respect teens. They know this and they resent it. Yes, not all adults and yes not all teens, but on the whole, that’s been the history of adolescence. Adults complain about teens even though they did the same things as teens and we underestimate them even though we resented the ways adults underestimated us as teens and we keep repeating this vicious cycle.

Make no mistake, A. S. King writes seriously weird and trippy books. I mentioned Metamorphosis above for a reason, King does not write straightforward literature. She takes a trippy, winding path with allusions and metaphors and surrealism that takes a while to get to the point but when you get there, your mind is both blown and sure that you missed a lot of stuff along the way. You could read an A. S. King book over and over again and find something new and different every time. And you will probably walk away sure that you didn’t fully get it every time. It’s that type of literature. It’s bold and confusing and maddening and dark yet inspiring and profound and moving.

If I’m being honest, I will tell you that although I name A. S. King as one of my favorite authors, and this is a true fact, I find her books difficult to begin. It takes a while to get into the rhythm of each book, to find out what’s knitting this particular book together, to suss out what’s real and what’s not. This is true for Dig as well, it takes a while to figure out who is who and what is going on. This is part of the reason, I think, that adults think that King doesn’t write YA. And yet King really gets into the heart of what it means to be a teenager in current times. She writes teens more authentically then some of the bestselling YA authors. She isn’t an adult writing YA for the adults that buy YA, she is an adult writing YA for the teens that read YA because she cares about teenagers and the teenage experience. Teen readers feel this in the pages and relate, even when adult readers find the books unrelatable or unapproachable. When I read the thoughts and conversations that the teens have in this book, they correlate to what I am hearing my own teens talk about and in the ways that they talk about them. It’s an authentic voice captured in radically unique ways.

Now I’m writing this and worried A. S. King will stumble across this post and wonder why I keep saying that adults think that teens don’t like her work but the truth is, many YA librarians have said this to me. Every time I post about A. S. King I get emails and replies, “yes but, teens don’t really like her work” or “it’s too intellectual for teens”. I find that to be a worrisome thing for YA librarians to say, because it means from the get go we are underestimating the very people we serve.

Dig is a multi-generational novel that brings together a host of characters and talks about things like racism, abuse, family dysfunction and mental health. It introduces a bunch of incredibly weird characters who seemingly have nothing to do with a cohesive story and then it just blows your mind in the way all the pieces are woven together. Once that final piece of the puzzle is put into place, you see the complete picture and you are stunned. In some ways, this is one of her most accessible books because the topics these teens are facing are so relevant to current events and discussions. Also, some of the more surreal elements are rooted in reality in ways that ultimately make sense to the story. The part of the story that made the least amount of sense to me, that was the most confusing, became an important element of the story that really works. That’s some good storytelling.

A. S. King is also one of the growing number of authors who seek to include frank discussions about sex, sexuality and sexual abuse in their novels because they recognize that this is a very real part of the teenage years. Teens think about sex. They’re trying to figure it out. A lot of them are doing it. This is one of the few YA novels that talks frankly not only about masturbation, but about female masturbation. King’s honesty resonates with teen readers because they feel heard, valued, respected and understood. King acknowledges the truth of adolescence, which makes her books that much more authentic to teens as readers.

I also like that in Dig King shares a lot about the adults in these teens’ lives. They are real, raw, human and flawed, but they are there and an important part of the story. This is, ultimately, a story about family and dysfunction and secrets and finding your own way – of digging yourself out of your genes and your family history – and it is profound. That’s what all teenagers are trying to do, right? Trying to find their own place in this world, to find their own voice, to set their own path, to break free of outside expectations and desires to truly find a sense of self and future. That’s what these teens are doing, and that’s why teen readers will relate.

Some of the topics in this story that are touched on include: racism, poverty, domestic violence, death and grief, secrets, the long lasting effects of trauma, teenage pregnancy, family dynamics and dysfunction, and depression and anxiety. Just to name a few. King really asks the readers to consider things like privilege, especially economic and white privilege. Characters often talk about race and bias and privilege and I think it is valuable and needed, but also handled well in the context of this novel. Even some of the characters who may consider themselves “woke” have personal revelations that indicate that they may not be as “woke” as they seem. I hate to keep using the word profound, but I found it it to be truly profound. As someone who is also wrestling with white privilege and what it means to live in our world in 2018 and how to be a good ally, it is nice to read a book that asks me to think about these issues in real and honest ways.

I keep a journal where I write down a lot of my favorite quotes from books and I marked a ton of quotes that I will be adding to that journal. Dig doesn’t come out until March of 2019 so it’s far too early to share them with you, but I wish that I could. There are some very moving reflections on the nature of self and family that I will be reflecting on for a very long time. The Teen is currently reading this book and I’ll let you know what she thinks once she finishes.

At the end of the day, this is a book I hope that everyone will read as it genuinely asks the reader to reflect on the concept of white privilege and it does not shy away from that discussion. What other books on this topic would you recommend?

#SJYALit: Talking About the Right to Die with Dignity, a guest post by author Kelley York

Today as part of the #SJYALit Discussion, we are honored to present to you author Kelley York discussing the topic of euthanasia, or death with dignity.

sjyalit

Around the beginning of the year 2000, I got stuck taking a speech and debate class in high school. Taking an anxiety-prone, self-conscious teenager and telling them to stand in front of a class and give a speech? Recipe for disaster. Except I found when it was a topic I was passionate about, I could forget the nervousness and really get into it. The debates, especially. One of the first debates we held was about human euthanasia.

With how much it’s been in the news, I imagine most people know what it is. But for those that don’t: in 1997, the Death with Dignity Act passed in Oregon state. This act said that a terminally-ill person had the right to choose to end their own life with the use of a lethal dose of physician-prescribed medications. A similar act passed in California not all that long ago.

Kelley York's newest release

Kelley York’s newest release

Discussing this topic is hard. It’s emotional. Death itself is something many Americans have a difficult time discussing. We don’t acknowledge that there’s an epidemic of doctors who are so desperate to “do no harm” that they’ll seek more and more treatments long after treatment simply isn’t conducive to a happy life. They don’t know how to tell their patients, “I’m sorry, but at this point, there’s nothing we can do.” So much focus is put on terminal patients surviving that we aren’t stopping to think about whether they’re living. Quality of life is disregarded. Suffering is seen as a better option to suicide.

In my years since that speech and debate class, I’ve found myself arguing this topic with many people, in person and online. I’ve yet to see any argument against euthanasia that even begins to sway my opinion.

This should be a thing everywhere, accessible to everyone.

A number of years ago, my Grandpa was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s with dementia. I always thought that part of why he and my Grandma chose to live in Oregon was so they had that option of the DwDA should they need it, but a number of years ago, they moved back to California to be closer to their kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids. We had many great years with him that I’m thankful for; not many people my age got to have such close bonds with their grandparents. It was common knowledge that Grandpa was terrified of falling ill. Or more accurately, of becoming a burden on those he loved, of having to wear diapers and be taken care of.

Watching Grandpa, who had always been the strong patriarch of the family, lose himself and forget who we were was one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through. He often thought I was an employee at his business. He packed up his things and set them on the curb. He helped decorate the house around his last Christmas, only to then no longer recognize the house as his and kept trying to leave. He grew agitated whenever my Grandma was absent, because even when he couldn’t remember who she was, he still knew he wanted her there, even at the very end. We watched him wither away into this shell of a man, and all I could think was, “Grandpa was terrified of this.”

My Grandpa passed away in April of 2016.

California’s End of Life Option Act didn’t go into effect until June of 2016.

So close and yet so far. I wonder if he would have taken the option, if it’d been presented to him. I wonder if it would have spared him whatever horrors a person with Alzheimer’s goes through in those months and years where they’re trapped in their own minds. Unfortunately, I’ll never know and neither will he.

Much is stripped from a person as they die: their energy, their dignity, strength, and time. And sometimes it’s for nothing more than a few extra months of being sick in bed. One of the kindest things anyone can do for a dying loved one is to truly listen to what they want and not just what they’re doing for the sake of their family. More importantly than that, to respect those decisions. To let them know when they’re tired, and when one more treatment that might buy them some time is presented, they don’t have to feel obligated to take it. It’s okay to hold their hand and say, “Whatever you want to do, I’m here for you.” If a person has tied up their lose ends and wants to have control of one last thing in their life, shouldn’t we grant them that choice?

Long story short: terminally ill people only have one outcome, but multiple roads to get there. We should respect them as loved ones, as human beings, to choose which road to take.

Meet Our Guest Blogger
kelleyyork
Kelley York and Rowan Altwood are a wife and wife writing team living in central California with their daughter and way too many cats. Kelley is the author of HushedMade of Stars, and Modern Monsters, and Other Breakable Things is Rowan’s debut.

About OTHER BREAKABLE THINGS

According to Japanese legend, folding a thousand paper cranes will grant you healing.

Evelyn Abel will fold two thousand if it will bring Luc back to her.

Luc Argent has always been intimately acquainted with death. After a car crash got him a second chance at life—via someone else’s transplanted heart—he tried to embrace it. He truly did. But he always knew death could be right around the corner again.

And now it is.

Sick of hospitals and tired of transplants, Luc is ready to let his failing heart give out, ready to give up. A road trip to Oregon—where death with dignity is legal—is his answer. But along for the ride is his best friend, Evelyn.

And she’s not giving up so easily.

A thousand miles, a handful of roadside attractions, and one life-altering kiss later, Evelyn’s fallen, and Luc’s heart is full. But is it enough to save him? Evelyn’s betting her heart, her life, that it can be.

Right down to the thousandth paper crane. (Entangled Teen, April 2017)