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#ReadForChange: Women Conquer and Dragons Slay in Elana K. Arnold’s Damsel

 

ReadForChange copyTeen Librarian Toolbox is excited to be partnering with Marie Marquardt for her #ReadForChange project. Hop on over to this post to learn more about the initiative. Today, she and Elana K. Arnold join us for a conversation about fairy tales, rage, feminism, and Arnold’s 2018 book  Damsel

 

 

I’m always irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality, and it’s very shocking to the system.”

– Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose

 

Shocking the System with Damsels, Dragons, and Dashing Princes

 

damselThis month’s #ReadForChange is the first fantasy/ fairy tale I’ve chosen to feature. I know some of you readers out there might be wondering: How can the re-cast fairy tale of a fierce dragon, a conquering prince, and a “damsel” (that he, um, rescues?) plunge right into the heart of contemporary issues? If you’re one of those people wondering, then you haven’t yet had the chance to read Elana K. Arnold’s captivating novel, Damsel.

 

In Damsel, Elana returns us to the classic legends, found across many cultural traditions, of dragons in their lairs, protecting their most precious possessions, of privileged men living into their society’s expectations that they become conquerors, and of “damsels” – seemingly defenseless, often distressed, and appearing to be in need of rescue. I won’t ruin your experience of reading the story by sharing Damsel’s astonishing twists and turns. Suffice it to say that Elana works wonders with this classic tale, reshaping it into a powerful feminist narrative perfectly suited to our time.

 

I’ll offer only one example of the story’s contemporary relevance: Shortly after she’s been “rescued” by the dashing price, Ama, the story’s protagonist, takes a wild lynx kitten as a pet. Her prince has murdered the kitten’s mother, ostensibly to (again) rescue Ama. Ama feels both a responsibility for and a strange kinship with the orphaned wild animal. She names the lynx “Sorrow.” Although Sorrow longs to return to the wild, the kitten stays by Ama’s side as Ama moves into the prince’s castle and begins preparations to marry him. (Needless to say, no one has bothered to ask Ama whether she actually wants to marry the prince.) Shortly before the story comes to its shocking close, Ama decides to release Sorrow back into the wild, telling the now-grown cat: “Sorrow is no more your name. Now I call you Fury.”

 

In recent weeks, I’ve seen so many women – women who have, like Ama, felt trapped, confused, and overwhelmed – shift from Sorrow to Fury. Elena Arnold’s legendary tale of a dragon, a damsel, and a dashing prince might be just the story we need for motivation to transform that fury into action.

 

Before we move on: Here’s one action for all of you Readers-For-Change: if you’re over 18, please VOTE on November 6. If you’re under 18, I hope to bump into you out there on the streets, drumming up support for our favorite candidates!

 

“The creative water that filled my well was… rage.”: An Interview with Elana K. Arnold

 

imagesMARIE: There’s no doubt that Damsel is a novel with a powerful feminist message – one well-suited to our time. What made you decide to write such a bold, unflinching story of men abusing their power, and of abused women recovering their own power?

 

ELANA: Damsel, I think, is a natural extension of the work of my previous two novels, What Girls Are Made Of and Infandous, both of which deal with embodied female shame. I found, after working on those two books for close to five years, that the process of writing them was a cathartic means of healing myself from the shame I’d felt all my life—the shame of my body, the ways in which I’d fit myself into a form I felt was expected of me. What was left, when the shame was gone, was this clear, pure rage. That rage is what I drew from when writing Damsel. As a writer, I work with what I have, what I’ve been filled up with, what my personal experiences have been. In the past, the creative water that filled my well was shame, and so that was what I worked from. This time, it was rage—propelled by my own lived experience.

 

MARIE:  I have to admit, the fairy tale trope of the prince “rescuing” the damsel seems an odd place to begin a feminist tale. What compelled you to return to the classic legends of dragons, damsels, and dashing princes?

 

ELANA: Traditionally, fairy tales have been written by men who shaped the stories into commodities that could be sold, products that centered female bodies as consumable objects, morality lessons, and prizes to be won. These are the stories many of us were raised on, so they were some of the material that formed me. Revisiting them and reflecting on how they might be re-formed by centering the effects of making women into prizes rather than leaving the stories when the women are “won” felt like a meaty and interesting challenge.

 

MARIE: How do your concerns about such issues as abuse, toxic masculinity and a culture of conquest shape your actions in the real world? What actions are you taking to create the world you want to live in?

 

ELANA: My concerns about the issues you named shape all my actions. They inform the way I vote, the causes to which I donate time and money, the way I raise my children, how I have committed to speaking up in situations that feel unsafe to myself or others. I hope that my creative work helps give readers language for their lived experiences; by writing an alternate version of the damsel’s journey, maybe my work will light a fire in those who have felt powerless.

 

MARIE: I know that it will! For readers whose fires have been lit, what’s your advice?

 

ELANA: Don’t wait for later. You don’t need to wait for permission to make a change. In many states, you can pre-register to vote up to two years before you’re old enough to cast your first ballot. You can learn more here.

 

Come up with a plan. Many of us, when faced with scary situations, freeze up and do nothing, or “play possum,” just waiting for the bad thing to go away. But if you can decide ahead of time what your script will be in, for example, a situation in which you see someone acting in a racist or sexist manner, then you are more likely to do something.

 

“Wonderful, wise, work:” Elana’s excellent recommendations for learning more.

 

“There is so much wonderful, wise work being done, and there are many amazing resources.” Here are a few books Elana recommends:

 

Can We All Be Feminists? New Writing from Brit Bennett, Nicole Dennis-Benn, and 15 Others on Intersectionality, Identity, and the Way Forward for Feminism, edited by June Eric-Udorie

can we all

Nevertheless, We Persisted: 48 Voices of Defiance, Strength, and Courage (With a forward by Amy Klobuchar)

nevertheless

Our Stories, Our Voices: 21 YA Authors Get Real About Injustice, Empowerment, and Growing Up Female in America, Edited by Amy Reed

our stories

How I Resist: Activism and Hope for a New Generation, Edited by Maureen Johnson

how i resist

Elana’s also a fan of the work Teen Vogue is doing. Check it out here. 

teen vogue2

And, there’s a wonderful podcast called KidLit Women that she’s actively following.

 Kidkit women

Want to take action? Need to reach out for help? Elana has some suggestions.

 

Elana’s an active donor to Planned Parenthood. You can learn more about their work here.

 

DAMSEL deals with issues of sexual assault, rape culture, and gaslighting. Elana recommends RAINN as a wonderful resource if you need help.

 

Win a copy of Damsel, fiery hot off the presses!

This new release is such a great read, and it will get you fired up to take action! Here’s a link to the giveaway. We’ll be announcing the winner on Twitter @MarieFMarquardt and Instagram marie_marquardt November 1!

 

Meet Marie Marquardt

Women’s March, January 21, 2017

Women’s March, January 21, 2017

Marie Marquardt is the author of three YA novels: The Radius of UsDream Things True, and Flight Season. A Scholar-in-Residence at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, Marie also has published several articles and co-authored two non-fiction books about Latin American immigration to the U.S. South. She is chair of El Refugio, a non-profit that serves detained immigrants and their families. She lives with her spouse, four kids, a dog and a bearded dragon in the book-lover’s mecca of Decatur, Georgia.

 

 

 

#ReadForChange: Back to School with Brendan Kiely’s TRADITION

ReadForChange copyTeen Librarian Toolbox is excited to be partnering with Marie Marquardt for her #ReadForChange project. Hop on over to this post to learn more about the initiative. Today, she and  Brendan Kiely join us for a conversation about power, feminism, toxic masculinity, taking action, and Brendan’s powerful 2018 book, Tradition. Please see the end of this post to enter to win a signed copy of this book! 

 

 

 

There’s really no such thing as the “voiceless.” There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.

– Arundhati Roy

 

“How Can Men be Better Feminists?”

 

Brendan-Kiely-Book-Tradition

Okay, folks. I’m about to climb up on my soapbox for a little bit, so get ready. (Or ignore this post until you’re prepared for a rant. These are tough times. Please be gentle with yourself!)

 

If you’ve been paying any attention at all to what’s happening in the world around you, then the claim I’m about to make will not come as a surprise. Many of the terrible ills that plague our society — and, here in the United States, also threaten our democracy — can be traced to a certain sort of privileged man. You know the type – they carry their entitlement as if it were somehow built into their DNA. They simply assume themselves to be untouchable – above the norms and laws and ethics that hold our communities together. And, if we’re being really honest, they pretty-much are able to live above or outside of those shared norms. Why? Because they live deep inside institutions that both grant them this power and protect them from losing it. They abuse their power. They abuse people because they perceive those people as objects, and not as their fully-human equals.

 

But then there are the men we may expect to be “the type” until we find out how very, profoundly wrong we are. They may be the jocks, the prep-school kids. They may be the recovering addicts. They may be the men who have made terrible mistakes, but who humbly seek guidance, looking to other people as models for how to live well. These men seek to understand the difference between right and wrong, and then they try to do what’s right. Sure, they mess up sometimes. But they try, and that means something.

 

They share a few things in common: they listen, they embed themselves in communities of trust. And by listening carefully in these communities, they learn – maybe slow and faltering – how to fight alongside their fully-human equals for what is right and good.

 

Brendan Kiely has astonishing talent. He writes stories that reveal to us both of these characters, while also unmasking the institutions that shape their lives (think: churches, police forces, and prep schools). His first novel, The Gospel of Winter is the gut-wrenching story of Aidan, a terribly broken boy, who struggles to decide whether he should reveal the abuse inflicted by his priest. I won’t claim that it’s an easy read (it’s particularly excruciating for Catholics like myself), but it’s powerful and compelling and – in the end – hopeful. In All American Boys (co-authored with Jason Reynolds), he introduces Quinn, who has to re-think everything he thought he knew about right-and-wrong, good-and-bad, when his mentor and big-brother figure, a police officer, assaults a black teenager from his high school.

 

Tradition, Brendan’s most recent novel, unflinchingly reveals life inside of a prep-school infused with toxic masculinity. More importantly, though, the story celebrates those courageous people who dare to make visible the toxic abuse of power, and of people. Tradition is, like most excellent novels, a multilayered story. But it is, at least in part, the story of how a boy named Bax, burdened by the mistakes of his past, learned to trust that he knew right from wrong and then developed the courage to do what was right.

 

“Before I act, I need to listen.”: Real Talk with Brendan Kiely

Brendan-Kiely-AuthorMARIE: Tell us about the moment when you knew that this story had to be written, and that you needed to address these tough themes head-on.  

 

BRENDAN: I’m hesitant to locate a moment, partially because I’m kind of dense and rarely respond to (or recognize when it hits me!) a bolt of inspiration, but also because I’m associative and nonlinear. Parts of my past resonate with parts of my present and when the emotions seem correlative, I know there’s a story in there. Also, as I’m looking around at the world, I formulate questions I want to try to address through fiction.

By way of example, I’ve shared this story before, and I think it does get at the crux of why I wanted to write Tradition.

Shortly before my senior prom, my high school allowed a tuxedo rental company to hang advertisements in the halls of our academic building. In the poster, four guys in tuxedos huddled around one girl in a prom dress, but the girl was tipped headfirst toward the floor, her legs in the air, spread open. In my all-boys’ high school, the poster reinforced the old trope of prom = sex, but it also signaled a deeper, more dangerous message as well: wear our tux and get what you want, because you are entitled to it.

The reality of that second message became clear to me when, a few weeks before going to college, I got a call from a friend, a girl who had been at that same prom. She’d been raped at the beach that summer. She didn’t want to share the details; she just wanted me to know. I listened. I believed her. Because I thought about that poster. I thought about the graffiti in my high school locker room and bathroom stalls. I thought about the way so many guys joked about sex aggressively, competitively. None of it was innocent. All of it reeked of entitlement.

An environment in which the boys think and are told they are entitled to sex, and all the messaging is about sex as a goal, and none of it is about consent and agency and seeing the human being, is an environment that nurtures, that is, rape culture. And a definition of masculinity that emerges from a culture which silences, shames, and gaslights women is dangerous—it harms women and robs men of the potential to be better human beings.

This all came back to me when in 2015 I saw the video of Emma Sulkowitz dragging her mattress across the graduation stage at Columbia University in an act of bravery and tenacity to remind the world she would not be silenced, that the story of her assault would not go unheard. The boarding school culture Jules and Bax grapple with in Tradition mirrors our broader society—all too many institutions are riddled with insidious and deeply entrenched misogyny—and I wanted to write about people who challenge that status quo. I wanted to write about the strength of women who stand up and speak out about misogyny, and also, especially as a man writing this book, I wanted to write a novel that asked: How can men be better feminists? What are men’s roles in this time of necessary cultural reckoning?

 

MARIE: What actions are you taking in this time of cultural reckoning? How are your actions, and the way you choose to act, shaped by your own identity?

 

BRENDAN: I love this question because it asks us writers to address the notion of accountability in our lives. Regardless of our intentions in telling the story, how do we live our lives?

As someone with a vast amount of social power and privilege, I’m white, male, cis-gendered, heterosexual, and not disabled, action is the language I’m accustomed to. That’s part of the privilege—I feel emboldened to act, I feel free to act. So though action is necessary, for those of us with these kinds of privileges, I think we should practice humility first and always. Choose to listen to the people in our lives, choose to listen so that we can better understand, but also so we can strengthen our empathetic hearts, instead of just telling myself, “here’s what I think I can (or should) do.” If I want to help create a more just and equitable world, before I act, I need to listen.

When my grandmother, a Catholic, and the matriarch of my predominantly Catholic family, read my first book, The Gospel of Winter, a novel about a 16-year-old boy struggling to decide whether or not he should tell people he’s been abused by his priest, I was nervous to hear what she thought. But she said, “Brendan, your book reminds me of Solomon asking God for a listening heart.” Her wisdom was profound and shook me to the core. In my life, my writing, my relationships, and all work I ever hope to do, I try to remind myself of her words, and strive to find, nurture, and practice, a “listening heart” before I act.

So rather than list the things I do (most of which are in organizations working toward more racial justice in various institutions), I’d rather emphasize the work I think we all need to do before we act: listening and believing the stories we hear—and for those of us who are men or white like me, particularly listen to and believe the stories of women and people of color, who have all too often been silenced or unheard.

 

MARIE: I love this wisdom! For readers who have been doing the careful work of developing this empathetic and listening heart, and who think they may be prepared for action, what’s your advice?

 

BRENDAN: I think it is important to remember that if we want to challenge established authority and status quo, there are inherent risks. It is dangerous to think we can affect change overnight, and it is dangerous to forget just how much work so many people have done before us in the work we hope to do today. Before joining or starting a movement, I think everyone should look through a few key texts to understanding to work, the cost, and the history. For example, one might check out these three graphic guides: A Brief History of Feminism by Patu, Antje Schrupp, and Sophie Lewis; March Trilogy by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell; and Introducing Feminism: A Graphic Guide by Cathia Jenainati and Judy Groves.

 

Brendan's Recommended Books (1)

 

And, after reflecting on the work that people have done before us, if you do choose to act, always act in a group, not alone. The most successful action is collective, not individual. By partnering and growing your numbers in your own organization, you can be a lot more effective in your community.

 

In my perfect world, there’d be a Feminist Club in every high school in America. So, if there isn’t already a Feminist Club at the school, I’d recommend students starting one from which to grow and connect to other organizations. And if there already is a Feminist Club, maybe consider researching the kind of actions other organizations (such as the ones below) have done or are already doing and either mirror those plans or find ways to partner with those organizations in your own school.

 

 

Ready to learn more and “strengthen our empathetic hearts”? Here are Brendan’s recommended reads

 

To get us started, Brendan recommend an excellent list of recent articles that “lay out the realities of sexual harassment and assault and rape culture”:

 

“#MeToo is a wakeup call: We need to talk to youth about sexual health and ethics” (Salon)

 

“The reckoning: Women and power in the workplace”  (New York Times)

 

“Your reckoning. And mine.” (The Cut)

 

“What does a lifetime of leers do to us?” (New York Times)

 

“#MeToo creator answers 10 questions and perfectly explains what the movement is all about” (UpWorthy)

 

“Stop telling us how to confront an epedimic of violence and abuse: Rebecca Solnit on the #MeToo backlash” (LitHub)

 

Brendan also points us all toward a couple of powerful feminist books:

 

Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi

pic1

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

pic2

 

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

pic3

 

And, when you’re ready to take a break from the books, he’s got several fabulous suggestions for documentaries and videos:

 

The Mask You Live Ina Representation Project documentary about the construction of masculinity

 

Nanette – a stand-up comedy act by Hannah Gadsby

 

Why I’m done trying to be “man enough” – a TED talk by Justin Badoni

 

 “Regardless of our intention in telling the story, how do we live our lives?” Ready to take action?  Here are a few organizations doing great work:

 

Creating Consent Culture – An international movement that educates and enlightens the masses on sexual assault and holistic healing to end sexual violence once and for all.

 

Ultraviolet – A community of people mobilized to fight sexism and create a more inclusive world.

 

NOW Campus Action Network – Young feminists bringing activism to their schools and colleges.

 

TRADITION #RFCHead Back to School with #ReadForChange

If you’re hoping to head back to school with a free signed copy of Tradition, here’s a link to the giveaway. We’ll be announcing the winner on Twitter @MarieFMarquardt and Instagram marie_marquardt September 1!

 

 

 

 

 

Meet Marie Marquardt

Women’s March, January 21, 2017

Women’s March, January 21, 2017

Marie Marquardt is the author of three YA novels: The Radius of UsDream Things True, and Flight Season. A Scholar-in-Residence at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, Marie also has published several articles and co-authored two non-fiction books about Latin American immigration to the U.S. South. She is chair of El Refugio, a non-profit that serves detained immigrants and their families. She lives with her spouse, four kids, a dog and a bearded dragon in the book-lover’s mecca of Decatur, Georgia.

 

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

tltheader

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Then November 2016 happened.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Meet Bree Barton

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

Book Review: Heart of Thorns by Bree Barton

Publisher’s description

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

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

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

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

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

 

Amanda’s thoughts

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

 

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

 

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

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

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

Book Review: Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake

Publisher’s description

girl made ofFor readers of Girl in Pieces and The Way I Used to Be comes an emotionally gripping story about facing hard truths in the aftermath of sexual assault.

Mara and Owen are as close as twins can get, so when Mara’s friend Hannah accuses Owen of rape, Mara doesn’t know what to think. Can her brother really be guilty of such a violent act? Torn between her family and her sense of right and wrong, Mara feels lost, and it doesn’t help that things are strained with her ex-girlfriend, Charlie. As Mara, Hannah, and Charlie come together in the aftermath of this terrible crime, Mara must face a trauma from her own past and decide where Charlie fits into her future. With sensitivity and openness, this timely novel confronts the difficult questions surrounding consent, victim blaming, and sexual assault.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

BILLY STARS

There’s what I tweeted after I finished this book. What a powerful and memorable read. I read a LOT of books. Often, as the weeks and months pass, the details get lost to me. I’ll remember I liked something, but not necessarily all of the reasons why. Or I’ll forget characters’ names or how the book made me feel. But this book? This book will stay with me. All of it.

 

Relationships in twins Mara and Owen’s world are closely-knit. They attend an arts magnet program with all the most important people in their lives. Hannah, Owen’s girlfriend, is one of Mara’s best friends. Charlie, Mara’s very best friend, is also her ex-girlfriend (Mara is bisexual; Charlie is nonbinary). And Owen’s best friend, Alex, has always been there, but Mara finds herself turning to him more and in new, unexpected ways. When Hannah says that Owen raped her at a party they all were at, Mara is devastated. She knows her brother would never do that. But she also knows Hannah would never lie about that. She turns to their small group of friends, including both Hannah and Owen, as she tries to process what happened. Mara has her own reasons for fiercely thinking that “believe girls and women” is a good policy (beyond it just being a good policy). She’s held on to a secret for years, a secret that ruined her relationship with Charlie. Mara and Owen’s parents believe Owen when he says he didn’t rape Hannah. They urge Mara to understand the need to be united on this, to not talk to anyone about it, to make sure they all have the story straight. But Mara is sick of not talking about things. She stands by Hannah, especially when Hannah comes back to school and is repeatedly greeted with, “Hey, slut, welcome back.” Mara, Charlie, and Hannah all have truths to tell. They rely on each other, and the support of girls (particularly in their feminist group at school, Empower) to find the strength to not be silenced. 

 

This masterpiece is gutting. It’s not just the characters, the dialogue, and the writing are all wonderful—they are—but that the story is so real. So true. So common. Maybe not the specifics, but the general story. This is in incredibly important read about the aftermath of a sexual assault, about consent, rape culture, family, friendship, and feminism. A powerful, heartbreaking, but ultimately uplifting read. 

 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781328778239
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 05/15/2018

 

 

Book Review: Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough

Publisher’s description

blood water paintHer mother died when she was twelve, and suddenly Artemisia Gentileschi had a stark choice: a life as a nun in a convent or a life grinding pigment for her father’s paint.

She chose paint.

By the time she was seventeen, Artemisia did more than grind pigment. She was one of Rome’s most talented painters, even if no one knew her name. But Rome in 1610 was a city where men took what they wanted from women, and in the aftermath of rape Artemisia faced another terrible choice: a life of silence or a life of truth, no matter the cost.

He will not consume
my every thought.
I am a painter.
I will paint.

Joy McCullough’s bold novel in verse is a portrait of an artist as a young woman, filled with the soaring highs of creative inspiration and the devastating setbacks of a system built to break her. McCullough weaves Artemisia’s heartbreaking story with the stories of the ancient heroines, Susanna and Judith, who become not only the subjects of two of Artemisia’s most famous paintings but sources of strength as she battles to paint a woman’s timeless truth in the face of unspeakable and all-too-familiar violence.

I will show you
what a woman can do.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

17-year-old Artemisia understands the way the world works: women are a beauty for consumption by men. There are many expectations for women and few freedoms. She understands that girls are prey, that they are seen as things and possessions. Artemisia, ostensibly an apprentice to her painter father, though clearly far more skilled than he, begins to paint biblical women she knows intimately from her mother’s stories, knowing a man could never capture the truth of the story the way a woman could. Her mother’s stories made clear the heavy burden of the inescapable male gaze, but they also made clear Artemisia’s (and all women’s) right to be outraged, to act, to push back, to speak up. These woman from her mother’s stories, Judith and Susanna, come to be her strength and solace when Artemisia is raped by Agostina Tassi, her painting tutor. Artemisia tells her father of the rape and they take Tino to trial. But, of course, it is not Tino on trial, but Artemisia’s virtue. 

Both the stories from Artemisia’s mother and Artemisia’s own story ask the readers to bear witness, to see the truth, to hear the voices, to understand the strength in the stories. The stories are the weapons, the armor, the refuge, and the map. This intensely passionate and powerful exploration of women’s lives, stories, truths, and power is a masterpiece. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780735232112
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 03/06/2018

#ReadForChange: Girls Fight Back in Jennifer Mathieu’s Moxie, a guest post by Marie Marquardt

ReadForChange copyTeen Librarian Toolbox is excited to be partnering with Marie Marquardt for her #ReadForChange project. Hop on over to this post to learn more about the initiative. Today, she and Jennifer Mathieu join us for a conversation about feminism, taking action, and Mathieu’s powerful novel, Moxie

 

We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. … We raise girls to see each other as competitors, not for jobs or accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men. We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie—We Should all be Feminists

 

“For All the Teenage Women Fighting the Good Fight”

moxieIt’s wonderfully fitting that Jennifer Mathieu dedicates her fourth YA novel, Moxie: “For all the teenage women fighting the good fight.” Why? because this book reads as a (punk rock) love song to the brave teenage women who walk with dignity through the halls of high schools everywhere, refusing to be defeated by casual misogyny, and fighting back in their own creative, unorthodox, and sometimes super-fun ways.

 

In Moxie, we follow Vivi Carter – a “good” girl who avoids attention – through a feminist awakening.  When the story starts, Vivi is simply trying to make it through the school year in a Texas football town, where boys (especially those who happen to know how to throw, catch, and block pigskin balls) get away with all manner of inexcusable behavior, from wearing offensive t-shirts to hallway “bump-n-grabs”, while girls endure subtle shaming through gender-biased dress-code enforcement, as well as direct sexual harassment and (in one instance toward the end of the novel) assault.

 

When the story starts, Vivi and her friends are surviving as so many girls do — by shrinking themselves, making themselves smaller, putting their heads down and getting by. Fortunately for Vivi, and for all the readers of this story, she happens to have a mom who went through a gloriously rebellious stage, which Vivi’s mom refers to as her “misspent youth”. Though it’s hard for Vivi to imagine her hard-working single mom ever having been a punk-rock feminist, a bit of rummaging through her mom’s old things allows Vivi to uncover the Riot Grrrls and their fierce zines. Inspired by their music and their protest, Vivi begins a quiet, anonymous campaign inside her own school. Her brave actions slowly spark a full-on social movement, bringing girls into solidarity across differences of class and ethnicity, and creating lasting change in the school.

 

And: Seth! He’s a newcomer to the school who wants, from the very beginning, to act in solidarity with the girls and to support their movement, but who bumbles a bit along the way. The love story that develops between Seth and Vivi is so lovely and his character is a beautiful (and important) model for how to become a feminist man. Step one: believe women when they tell you they’ve been harmed. Step two: listen and learn. Step three: follow them when they walk out and then link arms with them in protest.

 

“Calling Themselves Feminists for the First Time”: A Conversation with Jennifer Mathieu

_PDG6191MARIE: Tell us about the moment when you knew that this story had to be written, and that you needed to be the one to write it.

 

JENNIFER: I knew this story had to be written the minute the idea popped into my head! I wanted to write a book about Riot Grrrl – the feminist movement that made such an impact on my life.  But I wanted to find a way to make it contemporary and meaningful for young readers.  I also wanted to find a way to address the importance of intersectionality.  I started texting with my friend Kate and ran some ideas back and forth with her, and suddenly, I couldn’t stop planning, outlining, and writing Moxie. Honestly, this book was so much fun to write – probably the most fun I’ve ever had writing a novel – and hearing from young readers who have told me they are calling themselves feminists for the first time just because they read this book really makes me so happy.  The experience of writing Moxie was so special, and if it has helped make positive change in the world, then I am so humbled by that.

 

MARIE: What are some of the things you’re doing to create the world that you want your kids and students to live in?

 

JENNIFER: Personally, I have become very engaged in the campaigns of some local progressive candidates.  I became a voter deputy registrar in my county so I can register people to vote, including students at the high school where I teach!  And speaking of my high school, I sponsor the Feminist Club which is very important to me.  I also teach Sunday School at my church where I teach little ones about how God’s love is for everyone no matter their color, ethnicity, abilities, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

 

MARIE: What’s your message for readers who want to take action, themselves?

 

JENNIFER: My advice to readers who want to take action is to focus on one or two issues that really matter to them and do what you can in those areas.  It can be very overwhelming to try and “do it all” and I’ve been guilty of this myself.  After the 2016 election I was trying to go to so many meetups and doing so much, I got pretty stressed.  I decided that I was going to direct my focus on helping elect candidates I care about, and that’s what I’ve been doing.  For someone else it might mean getting super involved in raising awareness for climate change or feeding the hungry or clinic defense.  They just need to figure out where their hearts are and go for it!  I would also say staying informed by consuming reputable news and trying to limit consumption of click bait on the Internet is important, too.

 

Let’s Get Reading! “Focus on one or two issues that really matter … and do what you can.”

#RFC Moxie INSTA & FBOkay, Moxie girls (and those who love us!).  Time to follow Jennifer’s advice: Here’s a short list of non-fiction books that would be great companions to Moxie – they can help us get informed and stay informed, while also avoiding that click bait.

 

Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters by Jessica Valenti – The first chapter of this book is: “You’re a hardcore feminist. I swear.” The rest of the book will show you why that’s something to celebrate. And, as an added bonus, you’ll learn a bunch of new stuff along the way about pop culture, health, reproductive rights, violence, education, relationships, and more.

 

We Should all Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie –  *Okay, hopping up on my soapbox here.* We should all read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She is an eloquent and unapologetic feminist who speaks and writes with incredible clarity about how and why gender matters.

 

Girl Up by Laura Bates – The tagline for this one is “kick ass, claim your woman card, and crush everyday sexism”. Need I say  more?

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Looking for some Moxie anthems? Here’s Jennifer’s very own super rad Riot Grrrl playlist!

“Rebel Girl” by Bikini Kill

“Freewheel” by Team Dresch

“Dream Number Nine” by Big Joanie

“Stuck Here Again” by L7

“Mujer Moderna” by Fea

“Gimme Brains” by Bratmobile

“Oh Bondage Up Yours” by X-RaySpex

 

And, a documentary, for when you’re taking a break from that stack of fabulous books:

She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry

 

Let’s Get Loud! “Figure out where your hearts are and go for it!”

Ready to take action?  Here are a few recommendations straight from Jennifer Mathieu – “resources that support an intersectional feminist viewpoint and welcome all ladies, including girls of color, girls with disabilities, queer girls, and transgender girls.”

 

feministing.com – an online community run by and for young feminists. Offers “sharp uncompromising analysis” with the goal of inspiring people to make real-world feminist change.

 

therepresentationproject.org – Inspiring individuals and communities to create a world free from gender stereotypes and social injustices

 

moxiegirlsfightback.com – Jennifer Mathieu’s own tumbler with so much good stuff, including a step-by-step guide to starting a Feminist Club at your own school.

 

 

(Let’s Pause for Gratitude) “If It Has Helped Make Positive Change in the World…”

Oh, Jennifer! It SO has. This book could not have come into our lives at a better time.  As women step forward and speak out, and as good men stand in support of them, we all are so grateful to have Vivi, Seth, Lucy, Kiera and all those Moxie girls & allies to show us how empowering it is to join this fight!

 

Let us go forth, walk out, fight back, and #ReadForChange!

And if you’re hoping to go forth and read a free signed copy of Moxie AND some moxie swag, here’s a link to the giveaway. US only! We’ll be announcing the winner on Twitter @MarieFMarquardt and Instagram marie_marquardt March 1!

 

Meet Marie Marquardt

Women’s March, January 21, 2017

Women’s March, January 21, 2017

Marie Marquardt is the author of three YA novels: The Radius of UsDream Things True, and Flight Season (available 2/20/18). A Scholar-in-Residence at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, Marie also has published several articles and co-authored two non-fiction books about Latin American immigration to the U.S. South. She is chair of El Refugio, a non-profit that serves detained immigrants and their families. She lives with her spouse, four kids, a dog and a bearded dragon in the book-lover’s mecca of Decatur, Georgia.

Nevertheless, She Persisted: A Nonfiction Reading List

neverthelessshepersisitedmixedmedia2017 has seen a lot of challenges for women, whether it be in regards to legislation that harms them or the necessary but difficult discussion happening in the last few weeks regarding the prevalence of sexual assault in the lives of women. As a public librarian and the mother to teen girls, and as a woman, this year has been emotionally very challenging, though at times empowering. I’ve had a lot of difficult conversations with my daughters. We began this year by marching in the Women’s March and I’m not sure yet how this year will end, but it’s important that we keep empowering our girls. Today I share with you some new and upcoming nonfiction that celebrates strong females in a variety of ways, one of them in a truly unique way.

Why We March: Signs of Protest and Hope, Voices from the Women’s March

nevertheless1

As I mentioned, the girls and I marched in the Women’s March in January of this year and it was a truly empowering experience. Because I work in a state then I live in, I actually marched in two. Why We March is a collection of the signs that people carried in the march sprinkled with quotes by some of the more well known women who spoke at the march including Gloria Steinem, Deb Parent (a c0-organizer), Alicia Keyes, Barbara Streisand and more. There is a brief introduction, but the book is really about the signs. (Out now from Artisan, a division of Workman Publishing Co.)

The girls and I marching

The girls and I marching

Awesome Women Who Changed History: Paper Dolls

nevertheless5

As a kid, I loved paper dolls. They’re not something that my girls have ever played with, in part because they are growing up in a time of cell phones and other high tech dolls so they aren’t easy to find. So here is a creative way to introduce a new generation to some awesome, world changing women AND some good old fashioned paper dolls. Yes, really, they are paper dolls. Each doll comes with one change of outfit and some accessories. Lucille Ball comes with a couple of interchangeable facial expressions, as she should. Ruth Bader Gingsberg comes with a Supreme Court robe. Amelia Earhart comes with an airplane, obviously. Frida Kahlo comes with an artist’s palette. Susan B. Anthony comes with a votes for women sign. Well, you get the idea. There is a brief introduction to each person, so brief you may want to supplement with some additional titles from your local library. This book is inclusive and fun. It will make a great present, though not a great library purchase in general. You could use it to make some great displays though. (Out now from Adams Media)

Coming in 2018

Girl on Pointe: Chloe’s Guide to Taking on the World by Chloe Lukasiak

nevertheless4

I personally have very mixed feelings about Dance Moms, the show that introduced the public to Chloe Lukasiak. I’m not a big fan of using yelling, fear and the pyramid to motivate young people. And I found Abbie Lee’s treatment of these young girls to be so disgusting that I only ever watched a few episodes. Whatever my personal feelings may be, several of the young female dancers have used the platform to launch careers and platforms for themselves, which I can’t help but applaud. Here Chloe Lukasiak has capitalized on that popularity to put together this book which many tween and teen girls may be interested in.  It is a biography that includes topics like bullying and the search for self acceptance. Fans of the show will particularly be interested in this biography. (Coming January 23, 2018 from Bloomsbury Children’s Books)

Votes for Women! American Suffragists and the Battle for the Ballot by Winifred Conkling

nevertheless3

Coming off of one of the most contentious elections of recent history that resulted in a year that saw the walking back of a lot of women’s rights in 2017, there could not be a more timely book. Votes for Women! is a pretty comprehensive look at the American Suffragist movement. It contains a list of key primary sources (and thank you for this!), a timeline, a well developed bibliography and a comprehensive list of notes. The bibliography is broken down into books (yay!), film, manuscript collections, websites and places of interest. I mean, it is well researched and documented and pretty glorious. It is text heavy and picture light, so it’s more research and reading then some of the nonfiction we put into the hands of teens, but it’s important and comprehensive and that has value. (Coming in February 2018 from Algonquin Young Readers)

What Would She Do? 25 True Stories of Trailblazing Rebel Women

nevertheless2

What Would She Do? is an illustrated guide and brief introduction into 25 diverse women who have made their mark on history in some way. Some of the women included are The Trung Sisters (rebel leaders from Vietnam), Murasaki Shikibu (Japan’s first female novelist), Ada Lovelace (England’s first computer programmer), Frida Kahlo (the famous Mexican artist), and Judit Polgar (Hungarian chess master). For me, it was a mixture of women I have heard of and an introduction to some new ones. It is illustrated and contains no actual photos, so it’s not a source of pictures for those make a presentation board bio projects that teachers love to assign, but it is a very accessible introduction to a variety of meaningful women. Each section includes an introduction, a quote from the subject, and a brief “what would x do?” section. (Coming in May 2018 from Scholastic)

Karen’s Note: I used an illustration of Emma Watson from What Would She Do? to make the Nevertheless, She Persisted mixed media collage above because we are huge Harry Potter fans in this house and we’re exploring upcycling books in the Teen MakerSpace.

Things I Never Learned in Library School: Menstruation is a Biological Function and the De-stigmatizing of the Female Body

thingsineverlearnedinlibraryschoolOn Monday night I sat at a table with other moms and one single dad while our 9 and 10 -year-old daughters attended a Girl Scout meeting in another room.

“When do you start telling your child about her period?”, one mother asked.

“25% of girls now start their period when they are nine,” I pointed out. “So now, now is when we start telling our daughters about their periods.”

This isn’t a problem in my house, because I am the mother to a teenage daughter and we are not squeamish about periods. Even her dad will talk about her period with her. Not in an I understand what you’re going through way, because he doesn’t, but in a this is a part of who you are and it doesn’t bother me at all way, because there is no reason for it to. She will lament when she is on her period. She will discuss her feelings about having a period. She will ask for love and support and, yes, ice cream and chocolate, when she is on her period. And her father has gotten up and gone to the store and gotten her chocolate or pads because he’s a good dad. He’s a weird dad, but he’s also a really good dad.

familypic2

The thing is, society is horrible about the way we talk about and deal with the female body. We can laugh and joke about male erections and wet dreams and take male masturbation as a basic fact of life, but girls are supposed to hide their period supplies in secret containers and walk with their head held down to the bathroom in the middle of the school day.

As the mothers all sat around and talked about their periods, the single father to a daughter squirmed like he was caught in some type of trap. I felt for his daughter because I had a dad like this. He couldn’t look me in the eye and ask me when he went to the grocery store if I was going to need any feminine hygiene products. I remember having to walk to the local corner store once after scrounging around in the couch cushions to find enough money for a small supply when my period came one day in the 8th grade and I had run out of product at home. My dad, a single dad, would always ask me if I needed any “stuff” in the most awkward way possible.

Once every few months someone will ask on Twitter why the girls in YA never have their periods, and this is a really good question. A couple of weeks ago when someone asked, I retweeted the question with a “yes, let’s talk about this more to de-stigmatize it” and was met with some push back. Periods, someone pointed out, are boring. So is driving a car, walking down the hallway, doing homework, eating dinner, and yet another a boy woke up with some morning wood scenes, but they all appear in YA literature. However, we can read entire books about girls and never once do they lament that it is their time of the month. Girls can be stranded in an arena (the Hunger Games), stranded in the past (Historical fiction), or even just spend day after day in high school, and never once do they mention their period or wonder how they are going to find the products they need.

There are exceptions, though. Thank goodness there are always exceptions. Though in the case of periods, they are few and far between.

Period Fantasy: On Mentions of Menstruation in YA – Book Riot

No Not the One in Sentences, Talking About a Different Kind of Period – TLT

7 Amazing YA Books About Periods That You Have To Read | Gurl.com

Once Upon a Bookcase: The Lack of Periods in Fantasy Novels

PERIODS in YA – Queen of Contemporary

Why Menstruation in Young Adult Texts Matters. | canyafiction

It’s That Time of the Month — @lizb A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Are you there, YA readers? It’s me, your period. – Stories are Good

Things Never Mentioned in YA Books – Book Bratz

One of the biggest examples, and most classic, is Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume. This book was invaluable to me when I was in middle school. It talked to me about this thing when no one else would. I remember all of my friends reading it and being anxious about starting their periods.

areyoutheregod

Of course the female body is about more then just periods and menstruation. Over at Book Riot, Elena K. Arnold shares the story of an encounter she had with an older male at a recent book event. In it, she reads a snippet about a pap smear and the man asks why he should read about that. The why is simple, the human body is not a shameful thing and things happen to it. Woman have pelvic exams and pap smears. It’s just a thing that happens. Men have prostate exams, I know because I have read about them in fiction and in papers and talked with the men I love about them. It has to go both ways, men should know about women, their lives and their bodies, in the same way that women are expected to know about men, their lives and their bodies.

This week our healthcare is once again under attack. I won’t get into the specifics or the politics of it except to say this: time and time again recent healthcare plans want to almost criminalize the female body. Women, legislators proclaim, can be charged higher healthcare costs because of pregnancy. Pregnancy can be considered a pre-existing condition. Maternity care and even new born care is being put out the curb with the rest of the trash, in part because we are taught and been taught for generations that there is something icky and gross and sexual and less than about the female body. And this is where that dangerous rhetoric has left us.

The other day a teenager was telling me about a gross discharge she was having. I asked her if it looked like cottage cheese and she said yes. Don’t worry, I said, you have a yeast infection. Go home and tell a parent and there are some really easy things you can do to take care of it. She had no idea that a yeast infection was possible. No one told her because we don’t talk about the female body. Well, we do, but only in really objectifying and sexual ways. We’ll rate them. We’ll catcall them. We’ll talk trash if they don’t meet our standards. But in the meantime, girls are suffering from yeast infections and shame because we can’t even be bothered to mention the basics of what it means to have a vagina in a book about people that have vaginas.

Maybe that should change.

Check out the hasthag #YAHonest on Twitter for recs of YA lit that deals honestly with menstruation

#SJYALit: Breaking Taboos, Telling Secrets, a conversation between Isabel Quintero and Elana K. Arnold

Introduction

sjyalitIn the introduction to Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World, Kelly Jensen writes, “What unites feminists is the belief that every person–regardless of gender, class, education, race, sexuality, or ability–deserves equality.” This intersection between multiple social justice movements characterizes what we call Third Wave feminism, a term coined in the 1990s, and it seems to be a unifying force right now in the resistance movement spreading across the US in response to the 2016 presidential election.

 

But what does that have to do with books?

What makes a novel feminist?

In a series of conversations, four young adult authors–Amber J. Keyser, Elana K. Arnold, Mindy McGinnis, and Isabel Quintero–discuss what makes their recent books feminist and why they feel it’s important to give teen readers unvarnished reality in their fiction.

 

April 4th — Amber J. Keyser and Elana K. Arnold take on “unlikeable characters” and the evolution from aberrant girl to nasty woman.

 

April 11th — Mindy McGinnis and Amber J. Keyser talk about barriers. What happens when a girl smashes up against society’s expectations for what a girl should be?

 

Today, April 20th — Elana K. Arnold and Isabel Quintero address reproductive rights and the power of depicting sex and abortion in fiction.

 

BREAKING TABOOS, TELLING SECRETS

A conversation between Isabel Quintero, author of GABI: A GIRL IN PIECES, and Elana K. Arnold, author of WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE OF.

 

gabi a girlElana: Isabel, I think it’s interesting that both of our titles–GABI: A GIRL IN PIECES, and WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE OF–hone in on how girls are dissected by themselves, by their families, by their friends and their boyfriends, by society. Why is it, do you think, that girls are such consumable products?

 

Isabel: Well, I think it has to do with the fact that we live in a capitalist patriarchy where we are taught that everything is consumable. Women are often not seen as autonomous, young women especially and girls less so. We are always thought of in relation to someone else, defined by what our purpose is in that relationship–daughter, sister, mother, girlfriend, mistress, wife, and so on. Those roles are seen as both consumable and disposable. And because we are often not seen as autonomous, as having our own worth, that seems to translate into our voices, our bodies, our time, being assumed to be in the service of others–for pleasure, reassurance, guidance, emotional support, nurturing, etc–and for their consumption.

 

Nina is girlfriend until Seth decides she is not, and doesn’t even tell her. Nina’s dad had one wife and disposed of her and then took on Nina’s mom. And in my book, Gabi’s mom feels Gabi should look a certain way because she needs to fill the role of desirable young woman to eventually become wife. Is she concerned that Gabi should go to college? Yes, but being desirable seems to take precedence sometimes.

 

Some of it may be rooted in fear. I know that one of my mom’s biggest fears is that I end up alone. And it has been this way since I was a teenager–being married was a top priority. Now that I am no longer with husband, I find that she still worries about that. But this goes back to having worth attached to how much we are worth to others–or, in other words, how much they can take.

 

I think this also speaks to the images of the different saints in your book. Those women were consumed and continue to be consumed by people as signs of true faith. Or am I wrong? Can you speak a little to how the saints are or are not being consumed? Why did you decide to include them?

 

what-girls-are-madeElana: Something that fascinates me about virgin martyr saints is the same as something that fascinates me about modern teenage girls: the ways they are consumed. The saints are first consumed by those who killed and dismembered them; then they are consumed again by the religion that says that their suffering marks them as holy; then they are consumed again and again each time their story of suffering, dismemberment, and death is told. As a writer, I am consuming them, as well, using their pain for my own artistic purposes. The little rhyme from childhood–Sugar and spice and everything nice, that’s what girls are made of–tells us straight up that girls are for eating. One of the reasons I love your Gabi is that she turns this paradigm upside down, eating rather than being eaten, consuming almost as an act of rebellion, getting bigger as a defense mechanism against being consumed.

 

Isabel: Interesting take on Gabi. I didn’t so much have her be a fat girl as a defense mechanism as much as just who she was–she likes to eat. Some of Gabi is based on me, and her being a fat girl is one thing. The thing about being fat is that it seems like an act of rebellion and it isn’t–the act of rebellion is loving your body and realizing that you have ownership of it. That no one else should have the right to shame you into self-hate.  

 

Elana: I regret that I phrased this in this way–I know that Gabi isn’t fat as a defense mechanism. I do think that her eating and taking such pleasure in eating is a radical act, and something we rarely see in fiction–more often, the things we see girls consume are sex, alcohol, fashion. I totally agree with what you say about rebelling being the act of loving your body and realizing that you have ownership of it. The way Gabi consumes food does seem like an act of rebellion to me–it goes against expectations that she can enjoy food so much, or maybe that she’s so willing to tell us about the pleasure she gets from eating. Maybe this is because after eating comes digesting, and after digesting comes defecating, and we as a culture really don’t like to imagine our characters–female, particularly–as functioning bodies.

 

Another sometimes-function of the female body is pregnancy, and both your GABI: A GIRL IN PIECES and my WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE OF deal with the reasons around and the methods by which a girl might choose an abortion. When you began working on GABI: A GIRL IN PIECES, did you know that abortion would be part of the story you were telling, and what brought you to depict it in the particular ways you did?

 

Isabel: I actually always did know that abortion would be part of the book. Abortion is real. I say this because so many people seem to think that abortion is a new concept, that it is only a choice that women make in desperate times, and a choice that young women, teenage girls, cannot make. I think that women have always tried to find a way of not being pregnant because motherhood is not for everyone. I’ll say it again–motherhood is not for everyone. And women should have a say whether they are pregnant or not. When I was teen I knew girls who had abortions, in high school and at the university. For some young women it was tough because they felt they had no choice and were ashamed. For others they were so sure that they didn’t want a child but didn’t realize abortion was a real option and had tried other methods first, which is really dangerous and doesn’t guarantee success.

 

In GABI the abortion comes from a place of survival–if Georgina doesn’t have an abortion her father would surely beat her, thus her safety is in jeopardy. I wrote it in this way because it is a reality. Abortion and sex are not bad girl/good girl issues, they are simply realities of life. But I think this dichotomy harkens back to the notion of women as consumable–in which way do you want to be consumed? And also, asks men, (because this dichotomy only allows for heteronormative practices) what kind of woman would you like to consume? And that answer for some is the problem because it doesn’t allow women to avoid the male gaze at all.

 

What I appreciated about WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE OF was the fact that there is no moment of doubt for Nina. She is sure of her choice and what it means for her future. I really like that you gave her agency. That there was no one but herself who she had to answer to. But really what I liked is that you made her so real and flawed. This may be a strange question but do you think that there is difference between when straight cis-men write flawed female characters than when women do it? I think about this because my friend, author Erika Wurth, author of Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend, pointed out how women have had to learn to live in a man’s world, to see the world as men do, but the opposite is not true. I think it’s a very interesting idea and an important way of understanding how women are portrayed in literature.

 

Elana: I think that’s a really interesting question. I am a product of a late-nineties creative writing graduate school program and a high school education that told me that the reason the canon had so few women in it was because they just hadn’t produced work worthy of inclusion. I spent a lot of time trying to write like a man, and this applied most of all to the way I wrote about women and girls; I had so internalized the male gaze, both in my writing and in my life, that everything went through this filter. The work I have been doing in fiction and in life for the past ten years–especially the past five–has been focused on recentering girls and women: their experiences, their bodies, their emotions. WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE OF is peopled almost entirely with women, and it’s a story about female bodies, female shame, female desire, and female agency.

 

I think books like GABI: GIRL IN PIECES and WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE OF are incredibly important, especially in today’s political atmosphere, with women’s rights and female bodies being policed in so many truly frightening ways. I feel like we are watching the pendulum swing in the wrong direction–a regressive direction–and books like ours, and conversations like these, can be of service to young women. I’m grateful to you, Amber, and Mindy for our discussions, and to Teen Librarian Toolbox for the platform.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

ElanaElana K. Arnold (WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE OF) writes for and about children and teens. Some of her books have been included on the LA Public Library’s Best Books of the Year list, the Bank Street Best Book list, the YALSA “Best Fiction for Young Adults” list, have been ALAN picks, and have been selected for inclusion in the Amelia Bloomer Project (feminist books for young readers). Her last YA novel, INFANDOUS, won the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award and the Westchester Fiction Prize. She holds a master’s degree in Creative Writing/Fiction from the University of California, Davis, where she has taught Creative Writing and Adolescent Literature.

 

 

quintero (1)Isabel Quintero (GABI, A GIRL IN PIECES) is the daughter of Mexican immigrants. She was born, raised, and resides in the Inland Empire of Southern California. Gabi, A Girl in Pieces from Cinco Puntos Press, her first novel, is the recipient of the 2015 William C. Morris Award for Debut YA Novel, the 2015 Tomas Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award, the California Book Award Gold Medal for Young Adults, among others. Gabi has also been on several best of and recommendation lists, among them the Amelia Bloomer Project, Booklist, and School Library Journal.  In addition to writing fiction, she also writes poetry and her work can be found in The James Franco Review, Huizache, The Great American Lit Mag, As/Us Journal, The Acentos Review, The Pacific Review, and others.

 

Further reading

Amanda’s review of Gabi, A Girl in Pieces

Amanda’s review of What Girls Are Made Of