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Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

#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

#SJYALit: How to be Female, a conversation between Mindy McGinnis and Amber J. Keyser

Introduction

In 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.

Today, 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?

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

 

HOW TO BE FEMALE

A conversation between Mindy McGinnis, author of THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES, and Amber J. Keyser, author of POINTE, CLAW.

 

Amber: Let’s talk about Alex first. She’s a character that I can’t stop thinking about. She is about as far from the stereotype of what a girl should be as you can get, and yet she is driven by an experience that is all too common–the victimization of girls by men. Tell us about her.

 

Mindy: She’s angry, that’s the simple answer. Female rage is something that goes largely unexplored except in a sexualized manner, yet women get pissed – maybe even more so than men. There is nothing more violent in nature than a mother protecting its young. Animals know that – we’ve been socialized away from it.

 

pointe-clawMindy: You deal with anger and protective feelings for fellow females as well in POINTE, CLAW, and – like me – chose to couch it in terms of an animalistic nature. What made you decide to take that route?

Amber: I’m trained as an evolutionary biologist and much of my research was on animals. We observe a behavior and then ask questions. What are the evolutionary pressures that would result in that behavior? How does that behavior enhance survival or reproduction? How are multiple behavioral strategies maintained in a population? I brought that perspective to the story. At the same time, I was growing more and more convinced that maintaining highly-social mammals like whales, primates, and elephants, in captivity is immoral. That led me to pose other questions. What is the survival strategy when you have been caged? In an essay I read long ago Alice Walker proposed that if women could not express their true selves then they either go mad or die. All of that came together in POINTE, CLAW. I’m not sure I can even put it into coherent sentences. I had hoped that understanding animals would help me understand humans.

 

Amber: I’m interested in the contrast of Alex’s underlying violence and her gentleness and competence with animals. It strikes me that both of us have more sympathy for animal nature than human nature. It’s a direct contrast to the Judeo-Christian world, which has so elevated “humanity.” Is there a difference in your mind between human, female, and animal?

Mindy: Not necessarily. For me the inclusion of Alex’s compassion for animals was to show that she is not a sociopath. Killing in defense of others is a choice that she makes, and while she tells herself she doesn’t feel bad about it, the guilt does weigh on her in the end. The difference for her is that animals don’t KNOW better. Animals don’t live in a moral world; humans do.

 

Mindy: How about you? How did you weigh the more animal nature of one character against the other?

Amber: This idea of a moral world is bouncing around inside my skull. Humans lay such claim to the moral high ground. Or maybe I should be more precise: many men claim a moral high ground, from which they tell girls and women what to do. So much of POINTE, CLAW is about the barriers girls and women face when trying to express their true selves. When they embrace the more animal side of their nature–the lust, the anger, power–society slaps them down.  There’s a quote by John Steinbeck on the inside cover of my book: We are no better than the animals; in fact, in a lot of ways we aren’t as good. This guided my writing as I explored the ways humans fail to act morally toward animals and toward each other.

 

thefemaleofthespeciesAmber: In an earlier post, Elana and I talked about “unlikeable” female characters. I have a feeling Alex would fall in that category. (I can’t help it… I like her.) The other two female characters in THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES, Branley and Peekay are, at least at the beginning, fit a more “typical” girl stereotype. Can you describe them for us? Both Peekay and Branley push, in different ways against the boxes they are shoved into. Can you talk about that?

Mindy: The vast majority of reaction to Alex from both male and female readers is that they love her. I think she says and does a lot of the things that they *want* to, but are prohibited from doing. Peekay definitely has violent fantasies about things she wishes she could do, but isn’t the kind of person who can – or even should. Branley we don’t see from an internal POV, but the blonde sex-bomb patina chips away and we see her as a real person by the end.

 

Mindy: This is an interesting dynamic at work in POINTE, CLAW as well. You have an attractive female who is filling a stereotypical role, paired with a girl who is anything but. What do those two have in common?

Amber: Ballet is such a weird thing. You get all these little girls who love their tutus and pink tights and want to grow up to be famous dancers. Often their mothers fuel these dreams, but the dream is impossible. Only a very select few succeed. They’re the ones whose bodies grow in exactly the right way so that the proportion of femur to tibia is perfect, their feet have the right shape, and the length of the Achilles tendon allows the right kind of movement. You can work hard and have great talent but if your body isn’t exactly perfect you will fail to achieve the dream. What a set-up for disaster! In the book, we have Jessie. She is almost perfect, and it’s still not enough to get her to where she wants to be. Dawn is very far from the societal ideal of a “perfect woman.” She’s stocky and queer and butch and completely unconcerned with social niceties. But here’s the deal. Dawn might be 1000 miles away from perfect woman and Jessie is an inch from it, but neither one can hit the mark. That tells me that the whole concept of perfect woman is a complete and utter waste of time. Be “woman” whatever that means to you.

 

Amber: But let me throw that question right back at you. What do Alex, Peekay, and Branley have in common?

Mindy: They’re all three definitely sexual creatures. Branley has learned how to use her attractiveness and sexual drive – which she definitely has and celebrates, and hooray for her – in a way that gains her power. She’s conventionally beautiful, and has all the elements of sexualization working for her. Jack makes a comment at one point that he misses the girl who rolled her pants up and walked in the creek with him, the girl that was his friend before she figured out that she was cute as hell. I thought it was interesting to throw out there that Branley has figured out her power over men, and she believes it’s her greatest strength because that’s what society has taught her.

 

Peekay is budding into someone who is more secure in herself physically and wants to explore more sexually, partially in rebellion to her “preacher’s kid” label, but also because she is a sexual being and she wants to have sex. However, because of her upbringing she wants that to be with someone she loves and and trusts, and is planning on losing her virginity to her long-time boyfriend when Branley “steals” him.

 

Finally, with Alex it was important to me to show that Alex is by no means frigid, or frightened of her sexuality. What happened to her sister is horrific, but she hasn’t allowed it to internalize into an “all men” statement. She trusts Jack – maybe even loves him – and because of this is able to be with him physically in ways he wasn’t necessarily expected, with her having had such trauma in her past. Alex is very much a creature of instinct – and the sexual instinct is strong. She’ll follow that, for sure.

 

Mindy: You made a bold choice by including female desire in the form of masturbation in your book. Sadly, I can think of very few books that portray female masturbation – and even less in a positive light. What made you decide to include this facet in the narrative?

Amber: Like anger, which you wrote about above, female desire, especially when separate from romantic love, is an underexplored topic. When I was working on THE V-WORD, a nonfiction anthology of personal essays by women about first-time sex, I interviewed author and teen librarian Kelly Jensen about depictions of young women and sex in YA. One of the things she mentioned was how rarely female masturbation is depicted in fiction, especially compared to the frequency of male masturbation. I took that as a personal challenge to work into my next book! But in the context of POINTE, CLAW, the scene where Jessie masturbates and the other short glimpses of both girls touching themselves are absolutely organic. The entire book is about various forms of desire: sexual, creative, a yearning for self-expression, the need to be truly seen, and of course, the desire for freedom. It would be completely weird to explore those things without acknowledging that young women also have sexual desires and can satisfy them in various ways.

 

Amber: There’s a lot of consensual sex in THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES and also rape and attempted rape. One of the biggest and thorniest issues of growing up “girl” in today’s world is the intersection of sex and violence that even the most feminist of men don’t seem to grasp. Can you talk about how Alex, Peekay, Branley, and Peekay’s gay friend Sara navigate this territory? What does Jack’s perspective add or reveal?

Mindy: Branley as the “hot one” deals with a lot of sexual humor that is aimed at her, like penises drawn on her locker, even rape jokes during a school assembly. Her answer is to ignore, which is always an option, but I wanted the reader to be able to see the anger that percolated in her during these occasions, even if it remained unspoken.

Peekay is drugged and nearly gang-raped, which she reacts to as I think a lot of people do – with disgust, and self-blame. She’s sickened about what nearly happened to her, and can’t help but analyze what role her own actions played in the events.

 

With Sara – who is a lesbian – I wanted to be clear that she is not eliminated as a possible target for rape because of that. Peekay’s father says as much to her in a family-meeting style sit down. Without putting it too heavily into the text, rape is more about power than it is about sex. Rapists can and do go after young or old, attractive or unattractive, fat or thin, gay or straight. Victims can include pregnant, physically or mentally disabled individuals, even the very elderly. Your own orientation or physical appearance rarely has anything to do with the targeting – rape is a crime of power and opportunity.

 

For Jack, it was important to me to show a man who is at heart, a great person. There are plenty of expectations on young boys as well as women, and Jack falls into that. He’s supposed to be okay with having casual sex with Branley. He’s supposed to be okay with killing animals in a slaughterhouse for a living. These are masculine traits that he, as an all-American boy, should revel in.

 

But he doesn’t. Jack questions his actions with Branley and looks for ways to distract himself while at work so he doesn’t have to think too hard about what he’s doing. He wants more out of his life than what is being asked of him. It was also important to me to show Jack and another male step up – out of outrage – when they see what was about to happen to Peekay at a party. They are not okay with that, and make it clear… it’s just that Alex beat them to it :)

 

Amber: One of the things that all the female characters in our books have in common (and maybe I’m going out on a limb here but I’m going to say that all women share it) is the ever-present threat of sexual assault. After the Trump pussy-grabbing video came out pre-election, I read an article about how many hetero couples were talking about this issue for the very first time. Even the most feminist of men were shocked at how often the women in their lives experienced sexual assault or lived with the apprehension of sexual assault. Margaret Atwood wrote about how sexual assault has always been a weapon of war and tool of oppression. I wonder what it would be like to live and write in a world where we didn’t have to live under this threat of violence. Honestly, I hate that I am even writing that sentence, but both of our books make the claim that women are fundamentally not safe in this world and that fact shapes how we live our lives, how we interact with each other, and how we inhabit our own bodies.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Amazon Head Shot copyMindy McGinnis (THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES) is an Edgar Award-winning author who writes across genres, debuting with a post-apocalyptic duology set in a world with very little water (NOT A DROP TO DRINK & IN A HANDFUL OF DUST), and following that up with a Gothic historical thriller, A MADNESS SO DISCREET. Her first in a fantasy series, GIVEN TO THE SEA, releases April 11th, and a psychological thriller, THIS DARKNESS MINE, releases October 10th.

Mindy runs a blog for aspiring writers at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire, which features interviews with agents, established authors, and debut authors. Learn how they landed their agents, what the submission process is really like, and how it feels when you see your cover for the first time. Mindy recently began hosting a podcast, where authors give listeners straight talk about the publishing industry.

 

Amber Keyser_midsizeAmber J. Keyser (POINTE, CLAW) is the author of THE WAY BACK FROM BROKEN (Carolrhoda Lab, 2015), a heart-wrenching novel of loss and survival, which is a finalist for the Oregon Book Award, and THE V-WORD (Beyond Words/Simon Pulse, 2016), an anthology of personal essays by women about first-time sexual experiences, which was selected for the New York Public Library’s Best Books for Teens 2016, the Chicago Public Library’s Best Nonfiction for Teens 2016, the Rainbow List, and the Amelia Bloomer List. Find out more about her work at www.amberjkeyser.com and @amberjkeyser.

 

Further reading 

Amanda’s review of Pointe, Claw

Karen’s thoughts on The Female of the Species

#SJYALit: From Aberrant Girl to Nasty Woman, a conversation between Elana K. Arnold and Amber J. Keyser

Introduction

In 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.

 

Today, 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?

 

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

 

 

FROM ABERRANT GIRL TO NASTY WOMAN

A conversation between Elana K. Arnold, author of WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE OF, and Amber J. Keyser, author of POINTE, CLAW.

 

what-girls-are-madeAmber: I notice that many book reviews that highlight the feminist aspects of a novel usually include a shout-out to an “unlikeable” female character. What does that term mean to you? Does it apply to Nina in WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE OF?

 

Elana: I find the whole idea of “unlikeability” to be fascinating. Ultimately, I think that when someone labels a character as “unlikeable,” that actually tells us a whole lot more about the reviewer/reader than it does about the character. To me, the term “unlikeable” means that the reader has likely reduced a complicated, multifaceted character down to just some of her parts– the reader has decided that some of the character’s qualities, actions, or characteristics tell her whole story. It infuriates and fascinates me that we as a culture ascribe a narrower bandwidth of “likeablity” to females than we do to males. I have no doubt that there will be some readers who find Nina to be unlikeable. I think it’s more interesting to think about how her actions and perspectives make us feel–both the actions and perspectives we like and those we don’t like (which may be different from reader to reader). I think it is interesting to sit in discomfort and pull it apart, wonder at it, and come to terms with it. We can learn a lot about ourselves that way.  

 

Amber: I’ve been thinking about Nina in your book, Dawn in mine, and other characters (like those in THE WALLS AROUND US by Nova Ren Suma) labeled as “unlikeable.” I agree with you that “unlikeable” tends to be pinned on girls and women who express rage, desire, jealousy, and other feelings that aren’t considered nice or seemly. And you’re right that men get to express a wider range without being labeled as aberrant, and if they are white, upper class men even abhorrent behavior gets excused away (case in point: Stanford rapist Brock Turner). You also said we learn about ourselves by looking at those boundaries between nice and unlikeable. When society and the books that reflect it, shy away from the full range of emotions that women can and do experience, I’m afraid that girls learn to self-censor their “unacceptable” emotions. Psychic hurt happens when we cram ourselves into a cookie cutter version of “girl.”

 

Elana: Amber, your POINTE, CLAW is about two powerful girls whose strengths are in some ways parallel and in some ways very different. And the title, the way both words can be either a thing (a pointe shoe, a claw) and an action (to point, to claw) works as such a brilliant metaphor for the girls. Both of your characters are outliers; they are extreme, in various ways. Many young women spend lots of effort filing away at the parts of themselves that reveal them to be outliers, to be strange, to be different. Did you intend to create such intense protagonists?

 

Amber: POINTE, CLAW comes from a place of deep pain and anger, which spawned the intensity in its pages. Ballet was everything to me from sixth grade through high school. I dreamed of dancing for Joffrey or New York City or American Ballet Theater. My entire identity was woven around being a dancer. When my career crashed (for complicated reasons), I was devastated and became quite self-destructive. My body, no longer dancing 4-6 hours a day, changed radically. My social circle evaporated. I didn’t even feel like I belonged in my own family. The feeling of being betrayed by my body, my ballet family, my friends, and my own dreams fuels POINTE, CLAW. In the book, Jessie and Dawn are definitely extreme in different ways, but both have ravenous and unseemly desires. They want touch and sex and wildness and to break free from constraints. When everything they know starts to crumble around them, their response is to burn hotter, to go supernova instead of being crushed.

 

Elana: And do you think that intensity is reflective of the way young women are feeling right now, in this cultural moment?

 

Amber: Honestly, I hope so. Politically, those in power are doubling down on the constraints on women. The message to women and girls is chilling: Your body doesn’t belong to you. Don’t exist outside of the lines we have drawn for you. Be nice. Be grateful for what men do for you. I am absolutely rage-filled most of the time. I hope that younger women are too. I’ll be the first one to hand them a flame-thrower. I’m curious what you think about this. Is a through-line from unlikeable characters to today’s surging activism?

 

Elana: I do think so. I have spent much of my life being afraid of authority. Truthfully, I am still terrified of a man in a uniform, even though my white-presenting privilege has meant that all of my actual interactions with uniform-wearing men have been relatively safe, though often tinged with an unwelcome undercurrent of sexual tension. I began writing WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE OF three years ago, and I completed the final draft nearly a year ago, so it was well in advance of the rise of Trump and the rage that has grown in me along with that. This is an angry book, so clearly I was sorting through all sorts of anger, but I think my anger then was more woven through with shame and self-flagellation, an attempt to both punish and forgive myself for sins real and imagined. Now, my anger burns hotter; it’s a white-hot anger, and I’m not going to spend more time being angry at myself for past complicity in a system of repression that eats women up. I think (I hope) that girls are done apologizing for being girls, for being in possession of unlikeable characteristics and emotions. I think so many girls are ready to fight, and I think books that show characters mobilizing and rising up are important and affirming. A book like yours, Amber, is a flame-thrower. But it doesn’t read like an instruction manual or a manifesto; it reads like what it is, a brilliant and tightly-crafted novel. How do you walk the line between telling a good story and writing to inform, convince, or conflagrate?

 

Amber: For me, each novel starts with a big question or theme that I don’t fully understand. I am writing toward a better understanding of the topic I’m exploring. That’s very different from starting with “this is the truth I know, which I will now present to you.” I hope that allows me to avoid being a pedantic bore. What about you? You mentioned writing your way through a complex stew of anger, shame, and self-flagellation. I am wondering how the process of writing a novel like WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE OF changes you.

 

Elana: Some books are a pleasure. Others feel like the painful extraction of a tumor with long, winding, grasping roots. WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE OF belongs to that second category. This book, like many, began with a feeling and, in this case, a first line–When I was fourteen, my mother told me there was no such thing as unconditional love. That idea of love–the conditions of being lovable, and the conditions under which we give our love (to others, to ourselves, to a concept or a cause, like God or religion)– fascinates me. Writing WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE OF gave me a place to sort through how I felt about love, and my own value. As a young woman, I really felt that if someone liked or desired me, it was my obligation to give that person some part of me–access to my body, or a smile and laugh even if the attention felt uncomfortable or unasked for, things like that. Writing this book felt like a chance for me to examine my assumptions about that and many things, and to declare that, no, actually, I don’t want to behave that way anymore. And I don’t have to. It’s not my job to make other people comfortable. What a revelation! In POINTE, CLAW, your Jessie and Dawn seem to grapple with a similar question–how much access and control do they owe other people over their bodies? And how are they “supposed” to interact with/feel about their bodies? Can you talk about your characters’ relationships with their flesh?

 

pointe-clawAmber: While I was revising POINTE, CLAW, I went to an incredible writing workshop with Lidia Yuknavitch (author of THE SMALL BACKS OF CHILDREN and A CHRONOLOGY OF WATER). She is focused on what she calls corporeal writing, meaning writing from the body, in the body, through the body. Again and again during the workshop, she posed questions that linked body and emotion. Where does shame live in your body? Where does anger live in your body? Where does vulnerability live in the body? One of the big ideas I wanted to write about in POINTE, CLAW was the contrast between inhabiting the flesh and dissociating from it. There is such stigma about the female body–periods, fat, body hair, smell, orgasm–I think women often struggle to be in the body. Jessie certainly does. She is constantly watching herself in the mirror and trying to fit the image of perfect. It’s a weird out-of-body existence. When she loses that distance during the dance with Vadim, it freaks her out because it represents such unbridled sensation. Dawn is caught between fighting and embracing the chaos of her own flesh. Ultimately being in the body is a way to claim power. There’s a quote from Mary Oliver that captures something important about both our books–Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? To finish up our conversation here, can you talk about how this quote relates to WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE OF?

 

Elana: What I want to do with this one wild and precious life (one of the things I try to do) is to tell stories that make me uncomfortable and scared, that shake my center, that help me understand how I feel about my own past, humanity, society, religion, death, bodies… all the stuff that I wrestle with. I am a selfish writer when it comes to my books about teens. When I write for younger readers, I do consider the kids who might pick up the book one day, but when I work on a book about teens, there is no reader in my sights. I work through the story the way one might rub at a cavity with her tongue, exploring the pain, experiencing the rough edges. The longer I work as a writer, and the older I get, the more honest I am in my writing, and the deeper I am willing to go into my own fear, inhibition, and anger. Of course, when the book is finished, then I become sharply aware of the possibility that it will be read. I hope that WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE OF can help put into words what young woman may be feeling about their bodies, their positions in society, their relationships, their loves. And if books like POINTE, CLAW and WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE OF give readers words that spur them to action, all the better! The world needs fierce women– Go, girls, rise up and roar.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Amber Keyser_midsizeAmber J. Keyser (POINTE, CLAW) is the author of THE WAY BACK FROM BROKEN (Carolrhoda Lab, 2015), a heart-wrenching novel of loss and survival, which is a finalist for the Oregon Book Award, and THE V-WORD (Beyond Words/Simon Pulse, 2016), an anthology of personal essays by women about first-time sexual experiences, which was selected for the New York Public Library’s Best Books for Teens 2016, the Chicago Public Library’s Best Nonfiction for Teens 2016, the Rainbow List, and the Amelia Bloomer List. Find out more about her work at www.amberjkeyser.com and @amberjkeyser.

 

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.

 

 

UPCOMING EVENTS

You can catch Amber and Elana on tour together during April and May. Events are scheduled in Seattle, Portland, the Bay Area, Davis, L.A., and Orange County. More details here: http://amberjkeyser.com/appearances/

 

Further reading

Amanda’s reviews of Pointe, Claw and What Girls Are Made Of

Book Review: What Girls Are Made Of by Elana Arnold

Publisher’s description

what-girls-are-madeThis is not a story of sugar and spice and everything nice.

When Nina Faye was fourteen, her mother told her there was no such thing as unconditional love. Nina believed her. Now Nina is sixteen. And she’ll do anything for the boy she loves, just to prove she’s worthy of him. But when he breaks up with her, Nina is lost. What is she if not a girlfriend? What is she made of?

Broken-hearted, Nina tries to figure out what the conditions of love are. She’s been volunteering at a high-kill animal shelter where she realizes that for dogs waiting to be adopted, love comes only to those with youth, symmetry, and quietness. She also ruminates on the strange, dark time her mother took her to Italy to see statues of saints who endured unspeakable torture because of their unquestioning devotion to the divine. Is this what love is?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

There are people who are going to read this book and judge Nina harshly. Here is who I suspect those people will be: people who are not teenage girls; people who have never been teenage girls; people who completely forgot what it’s like to be a teenage girl; people who literally cannot imagine being a teenage girl; and people who don’t understand the realities of teenage girls. Reading this book requires being aware of the fact that being a teenage girl means processing, internalizing, and subverting a lifetime of your gender being socially constructed. It means bending and breaking under the weight of expectation. It means digging deep to find your worth when you’re surrounded by an entire world that tries to define it for you. It means being fed conflicting and dangerous messages, then being left to untangle them, alone, and find out the truth for yourself. Being a teenage girl is not easy; Elana Arnold shows us exactly why in this stunning and thoughtful book.

 

Nina is told by her mother, at age 14, that love is always conditional—that there is no such thing as unconditional love. She’s not just talking about romantic love; her mother tells her that she could stop loving her at any time for any number of reasons. Nina spends the next few years grappling with this statement. For her, in her relationship with Seth, love is very conditional and involves games. Or, I should say, it’s conditional from Seth’s perspective. As far as Nina is concerned, her love is unconditional. Her love of Seth is worshipful. She admits that all of the decisions she makes are based on Seth, and she knows “it isn’t okay to care this much about a boy. I know it’s not feminist, or whatever….” But knowing something and applying that knowledge are two different things. They have been dating for three months and Nina has made him her whole world. It is uncomfortable to see her so absorbed in this not particularly satisfying relationship—not because I feel she is being foolish, but because I recognize my teenage self in her choices and feelings. Maybe that’s the best summary of being a teenage girl: it is uncomfortable.

 

Nina volunteers at a high-kill dog shelter (I fully admit I had to skim the parts that talked about surrendering, harming, and killing dogs). She mentions a few times that she was ordered to volunteer as part of an incident from last year—an incident that we don’t learn the truth of until quite late in the book. There is a lot to be said about Nina and working at the shelter, about how, much like the attention-deprived dogs, she just wants someone to love her, to choose her. There are also entire papers just begging to be written about women’s bodies, what fills them and empties from them, and metaphors dealing with her large but often empty home, her mother’s miscarriages, and Nina’s own abortion.

 

Between the main narrative of Nina’s story are short pieces mainly about virgins, martyrs, and saints. These are stories Nina’s mother told her and are stories of sacrifice, unconditional love, and the happily ever after that comes from dying for what you are devoted to. Nina is writing these, along with other short pieces, for an English assignment, only she doesn’t think she can bear to share them with her teacher. I suppose some readers may be inclined to skim them, not seeing them as integral to the main story, but skipping them would be a mistake. These stories, which have left such impressions on Nina, are powerful, important, and revealing. As Nina’s mother says at one point, “As long as there have been women, there have been ways to punish them for being women.”

 

This meditation on the idea of unconditional love—whether it is, indeed, unconditional, whether this idea is dangerous or appealing (or both), and determining who sets conditions and why—is devastating, smart, complex, and utterly real. Nina is aching, learning, screwing up, holding on too long, letting go, bending, breaking, and recreating. Arnold shows us that none of that is simple. It’s not easy, in any way, but she is doing it all, largely alone. She is hurting and growing and being. She is becoming. Her story is so painfully familiar and common and will surely resonate with readers. A powerful and unforgettable look at the things that define teenage girls.

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781512410242

Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group

Publication date: 04/01/2017

A Day without Women

Today is the National Day without Women and TLT is a blog created by and run by women. As news came down the pike recently that the ACA replacement plan would not require insurers to cover maternity care at the same time that there are assaults on a women’s ability to get coverage for things like birth control while those in government refer to women as “hosts”, we have decided to go silent today here at TLT. Without women, this amazing blog dedicated to serving teens and raising awareness of YA lit would not exist. Without women, libraries around our country would not be able to open their doors today as librarianship is a female dominated profession. Women’s rights are human rights. Women matter.

postcard19

If you are interested, here are some of our previous posts on women’s rights issues that you may wish to read today.

I’m Just a Girl? Gender issues in YA Lit

Dear World, Here’s What We Want You to Know about Teenage Girls

“Nevertheless, She Persisted” A Take 5 List

STEM Girls: Books with girls rocking science and math

#NastyWomenRead: A Book List

You can also check out the FEMINISM tag here at TLT

We will be back tomorrow with new posts. Today we wear red and ponder what a world without women would be like.

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

Glory O'Brien's History of the Future

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


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


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


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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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


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


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


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



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



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


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


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



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



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


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


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


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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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




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


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



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


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


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


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



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


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


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


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


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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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

    Publisher's Book Description:

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

 

Books for Trying Times: A Resource List compiled by members of KidLit Resists!

aram kim

Art by Aram Kim Available for use here http://ow.ly/d/5Q4v

Today’s list of resources is brought to you by the members of KidLit Resists! We’re a Facebook group for members of the KidLit community (authors, illustrators, editors, youth librarians, booksellers, and others who create and support picture books, MG books, and YA books) who wish to organize against the current administration’s agenda and support those communities targeted by the administration.

 

If you have other resources to suggest, please put them in the comments or tag me on Twitter, where I’m @CiteSomething.

 

 

 

KidLit Resource List – Books for Trying Times
Compiled by members of the KidLit Resists! Facebook page

 

Lists of recommended books

 

Jane Addams Peace Award books (1953 – present) “The Jane Addams Children’s Book Award annually recognizes children’s books of literary and aesthetic excellence that effectively engage children in thinking about peace, social justice, global community, and equity for all people.”

 

35 Picture Books for Young Activists (from All The Wonders)

 

BOOK LIST: PICTURE BOOKS ABOUT MUSLIM OR MIDDLE EASTERN CHARACTERS (from Lee & Low Books)

 

8 Empowering Middle Grade Novels for Kids Interested in Social Justice (from Barnes & Noble)

 

KitaabWorld: South Asian and diverse children’s books

 

The Brown Bookshelf: United in Story

 

AMELIA BLOOMER PROJECT: RECOMMENDED FEMINIST LITERATURE FOR BIRTH THROUGH 18

 

Refugee picture books (on Pinterest)

 

20 BOOKS ABOUT REFUGEE & IMMIGRANT EXPERIENCES (from All The Wonders)

 

EMPATHY: STEAD’S COMMON THREAD (from All The Wonders)

 

STORIES ABOUT REFUGEES: A YA READING LIST (from Stacked)

 

Activist biographies (YA)

 

TEN YOUNG ADULT BOOKS THAT REFLECT THE US IMMIGRATION EXPERIENCE (from Nerdy Book Club)

 

Books That Respect Kids with Unique Abilities (from All The Wonders)

 

Girl-empowering Books (from A Mighty Girl)

 

We Need Diverse Books

 

Penny Candy Books: A Mission Becomes a Moral Directive (from Publishers Weekly)

 

Teaching Tolerance – a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center

 

30 Of The Best Books To Teach Children Empathy (from TeachThought)

 

19 books to help children find hope and strength in stressful times: A librarian’s list (from The Washington Post)

 

13 Books to Teach Children About Protesting and Activism (from GeekMom)

 

Books inspiring activism and tolerance

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Their Great Gift: Courage, Sacrifice, and Hope in a New Land by John Coy, photos by Wing Young Huie

March (trilogy) by John Lewis (Author), Andrew Aydin (Author), Nate Powell (Artist)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: I dissent by Debbie Levy

The Seeds of America Trilogy by Laurie Halse Anderson

Child of the Civil Rights Movement by Paula Young Shelton

This Side of Home by Renee Watson

Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo

The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

What Does It Mean To Be Kind? by Rana DiOrio

The Hunt (coming in 2/17) by Margaux Othats

A Gift From Greensboro by Quraysh Ali Lansana, illustrated by Skip Hill

Ambassador by William Alexander

Fred Korematsu Speaks Up by Laura Atkins and Stan Yogi, illustrations by Yutaka Houlette

Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle

 

Recommendations for preschool storytime

A Chair For My Mother and sequels by Vera B. Williams

More, More, More Said the Baby by Vera B. Williams

A is for Activist and Counting on Community by Innosanto Nagara

The Bus for Us by Suzanne Bloom

Whoever You Are by Mem Fox

Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation by Edwidge Danticat, illustrated by Leslie Staub

Jacqueline Woodson’s picture books

Kadir Nelson’s picture books

SPPL

 

Sunday Reflections: Dear World, Here’s What We Want You to Know about Teen Girls

The other day, in attempt to express contempt for President Trump’s Twitter use, Judd Apatow disparaged him by comparing him to a 14-year-old girl who tweets. This is not the first time that I have seen a tweet like this. The idea of being “like a girl”, especially a teenage girl, is a tried and true way of putting down others, especially men. For many, being like a girl is the worse insult they can think of. Teenage girls are so reviled that we effortlessly use them as insults and then we wonder why they are growing up feeling unempowered and rejected by the world around them.

So in response to not just Judd Apatow but to a culture that wants to continue to use teen girls as an insult and a put down, I tweeted about the various teen girls that I know, love, raise and spend time with in my life. You can read those tweets in a Storify here. But I want to tell you specifically what two 14-year-old girls spent last week doing.

forneybooks

For some time, The Teen, a close personal friend and I have been talking about starting an initative to try and get books into the hands of needy children and teens in our local community. One in five children go to bed hungry each night and if you can’t buy food, you are most certainly not buying books. And as a librarian I know and preach the value of libraries exactly for this reason, but I also know that there is something special about owning a few books and having your own personal library that is open all the time and you get to call yours. So these past few weeks we worked really hard to start making it happen in our local community.

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We knew that getting books wouldn’t necessarily be a problem – many people have already donated – but we kept getting stuck on the how do we distribute the books portion. Then, our local food pantry announced that it was starting a backpack food program. If you’re community doesn’t do this I highly recommend looking into it. Each child who needs one gets a backpack full of food and snacks to take home on Friday afternoon so that they have some food to eat over the weekend. For many children, breakfast and lunch at school may be the only meal they get each week, and weekends are hard. The food backpack program helps bridge the gap over the weekend.

Making bookmarks

Making bookmarks

So we called the local food pantry, who will be putting the backpacks together each week, and asked if we could also put a book in each backpack. They said yes! So now we have begun collecting book donations (or the money to go buy books as some people prefer we buy the books). We also are making bookmarks and READ buttons to put with each book. Our goal is to put a book in each backpack a couple of times a month so that by the end of the school year these kids will have a handful of books to call their own and they can keep reading when they no longer have access to their school library.

Making buttons

Making buttons

So Friday night, out of all the things these two teenage girls could have been doing, they set up and assembly line to make buttons and bookmarks, placed them in books, and organized books by ages to be placed next week in backpacks. To date we have about 131 books.

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We made signs and put collection boxes up around the neighborhood. And we brainstormed other ways we could get books into the hands of kids. For example, our community has a monthly farmer’s market and we talked about purchasing a cart that we can set up with a “here kids take a book” sign. The girls are excited about the prospect of spending their Saturday’s out in the community handing out books to kids.

These are just two teenage girls, there are tons more like them all over doing equally amazing things. So maybe we can stop using them as insults and instead start respecting, nurturing and empowering them. And hey, maybe once in a while tell them they’re awesome. Because they are.

Still Learning Every Day: HERE WE ARE editor Kelly Jensen interviews contributor Sarah McCarry

It’s the final day in our week celebrating the release of Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World edited by Kelly Jensen. Today, Kelly joins us as she interviews one of the contributors, Sarah McCarry. Be sure to visit our post from day one to enter to win a Feminist t-shirt!

“I’m Still Learning Every Day”: Sarah McCarry on Feminism

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hereweare

 Sarah McCarry’s essay in Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World is about relationships. More specifically, her piece conveys the hard lessons that so many girls learn and experience when it comes to finding and making true friendships. Where do you let yourself stand out? Where do you make yourself fit in? And at what point do you have to confront the roles you’re playing to do one and not the other?

Here’s a short excerpt from her essay:

You make yourself superior. Superior in your silence, your lack of want. You take up no space. You quit eating and do not name aloud the hunger that rages every day in your belly. You are not like other girls. You are not like other girls (“You are not like other girls,” the boys you run with will tell you, and you will try not to let them see you preen under the glancing light of their approval). You learn their books and their language. You laugh at their jokes. You listen to their stories, sit blank-eyed on their couches while they play video games, pass them your English notes. You keep their secrets. You use the words they use about other girls in order to assure yourself that they will never use those words about you. You make yourself into nothingness, a ghost conjured into being only through the desires of boys, the rules of boys, the ideas of boys. You’re not like other girls. If you turn sideways, you are so thin, you can almost disappear. If you are good enough at this, you will be safe.                                                           

You are never quite good enough at it, as it turns out. You were never, in their company, safe.                                                           

It will take you long, lonely years, but one day you will grow tired. Tired of boys, tired of contempt, and then where will you be? All these girls around you with their stories and their lives, the solace of one another, and you will be as far away from them as an anthropologist among a foreign people, curious but unable to make contact. Have faith: you will learn.

sarahmccarry

Sarah McCarry (and a bear)

The ways this essay talks about how we judge girls, as well as how those who identify as girls judge ourselves against other girls, is a gut-punch. It forces the reader through painful “ah ha” moments to get to those powerful, self-affirming moments. It’s an essay that defines so much of what social justice means: standing up for yourself and standing up for those who are disadvantaged by social, cultural, and political beliefs.

Kelly Jensen: If you had to pick a moment that really defined you as a feminist, where you felt like owning the term, what was that moment?

Sarah McCarry: Mmmm, that’s a good question. I can think immediately of a moment in my senior year of high school. I was in a study group with these guys from my physics class and it was important to me that they like me, that they think I was tough and cool and hot and not like other girls and all that other bullshit. They weren’t popular, exactly, but people liked them, they were rich and confident and they moved around in the world with this absolute ease that I wanted to be a part of. They sexually harassed me all the time; they harassed other girls in the class all the time; they said what, in retrospect, were horrific things about other girls in our class all the time, one of them had at that point sexually assaulted me; but I thought, then, that the way to deal with that was to be really cool. I didn’t think the issue was them or the culture that enabled them or the teacher who thought they were funny; I thought I just needed to be skinnier and meaner and more quiet and prettier but not girly and tell the right jokes and not take up any space and then I would have achieved that magical state of being one of them, of being, basically, human.

So this had been going on all year and their behavior was finally starting to trouble me in a way I couldn’t write off as my own hysteria. I will never forget a moment when we were all studying together in the café of a Barnes and Noble—this was a very small town, only goths and smokers went to the coffee shop—and they started talking about a girl in our class, saying things like she’d given dudes blow jobs to get them to do her homework for her, she was such a slut, she was trash. This girl was a thousand times smarter than all of them put together, I think she’s literally a neurosurgeon now. They were pissed because she knew better than to study with them and she did better than them by far in the class and had the audacity to be better at science than them while female and having sex with people who weren’t them. And suddenly something connected in me that had never sparked before; I understood in that moment that what they were saying was really fucked up, that what they’d done to me and to other women all year was really fucked up, that what I’d enabled them to say about other women was really fucked up, that they had never, at any point, thought of me as anything like an equal, that that was a battle I was never, ever going to win, and that I didn’t care whether or not they liked me anymore because I didn’t like a single one of them. I felt it through my whole body: I. Don’t. Care. Anymore. Just like that: I was free of them. And I stood up so fast I knocked my chair over and said, very loud, “Fuck all of you,” and walked out of there, and pretty much didn’t talk to them again after that. It was one of the more cathartic moments in my life, for sure.

But my feminism is also an organic, constantly evolving thing. For years after that moment with those dudes I still thought and said a lot of dumb things about race and class and sexuality and gender and how they operate together. I thought and said a lot of transphobic and racist and ableist and classist and just generally very stupid shit. It was a long time after that, when I had been doing social work for years, and organizing and working with a lot of incredible women of color who taught me so much—and were (god bless every one of you, you know who you are) incredibly patient and generous with me, which was a huge gift that of course I took for granted at the time—anyway, it was a long time after that before I would call my feminism anything resembling intersectional or committed to real social justice and transformation, and if my feminism is a useful tool now it’s entirely because of the work and ongoing work of women of color and trans women of color and because of the decades upon decades of work—again, in huge part by trans women of color and women of color and queer women of color—of women who came before me. I’m still learning every day.

Kelly: Your essay, while personal, is told entirely through second person. Talk about that choice and what you hope it is that readers feel as they go through the painful experiences associated with “fitting in.”

Sarah: I think that experience of internalized misogyny, of trying to transform yourself into the girl who’s not like other girls and ultimately failing—because that girl doesn’t exist, the girl who’s cool enough to be safe and respected and valued in a patriarchal system, no one has ever been that girl no matter how hard she worked or how many women she cut down or how many men approved of her—is a very common one for a lot of young (and not so young) women. I spent a long time working through shame about that experience: I wanted people who sexually assaulted me to like me, I spent a big chunk of my life putting myself into situations that I knew were physically and emotionally unsafe, I said shitty things to and about other women, and for years I thought that meant there was something fundamentally wrong with me or that I deserved what I’d been through. And of course that’s not true. I learned, working with survivors of extreme trauma, that surviving can often mean making choices that look—and often are—pretty terrible and part of moving out of trauma, of moving toward a life where trauma doesn’t define your existence, is forgiving yourself for making them in the first place. Like a lot of people, I was able to apply those lessons to others long before I realized I also got to apply them to myself. And I think the more easily you are able to be generous with yourself, the more easily you can extend that compassion to other people and see them in all their messy complicated beautiful infuriating human-ness, and hold yourself and other people accountable for your shitty choices in productive ways, and work together to move toward a world populated with the opportunities to make better ones.

The second person in the essay wasn’t a conscious choice but I think in some ways it manifested as a reminder to myself to extend the same kindness to the person I used to be as I do to other people. And for readers—I hope, wherever you’re at, that that’s useful to you.

Kelly: In what ways have you incorporated social justice/feminism into your everyday life?

Sarah: I don’t think you can separate those things, honestly. The lens of social justice isn’t something you can put away once you start looking at the world through it. It can make going to the movies a real pain in the ass, I tell you what. Once you see how power works in a system, you can’t ever unsee it again, even if you just want to watch dopey space battles on the IMAX screen.

Kelly: What are some of your favorite books and/or resources that would benefit all readers eager and curious about social justice/feminism?

Sarah: SO MANY!!!!! Mariame Kaba’s website (http://www.usprisonculture.com/blog/) is an incredible resource and so is all of the work she does—she is an extraordinary organizer who works a lot with young people around transformative justice. Everything Jenny Zhang has ever written, especially her essays and stories for Rookie. Read Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Leslie Marmon Silko, Sandra Cisneros, Gloria Anzaldúa, Maxine Hong Kingston, Sandra Cisneros, Joy Harjo, Toni Morrison (fiction and non!), June Jordan. I am a big fan of Walida Imarisha’s work, Natalie Diaz and Aracelis Girmay’s poetry, Rahawa Haile’s essays, everything Topside Press publishes… I could make this answer forty pages long, tbh. I use my twitter (@therejectionist) to flag particularly fabulous books I’m reading, you can keep an eye on that as well.

I will say that I think we have a responsibility to know our history, to know how long we’ve been fighting the exact same battles, the incredible transformative work that’s come before us; that’s something I wish I’d figured out way earlier. Read about the Black Panthers, read about ACT UP, read about Stonewall and SDS and the Combahee River Collective (http://circuitous.org/scraps/combahee.html) and AIM, read Sojourner Truth and Ida B. Wells and Angela Davis and Assata Shakur and Leslie Feinberg and David Wojnarowicz and Ronald Takaki and Cherríe Moraga. People have been thinking about—and doing a really good job of thinking about—this stuff for a long, long time.

Kelly: How can young readers and those who advocate on their behalf better prepare themselves to be actively engaged with social justice and feminism? Perhaps more specifically, how can girls help other girls so that they don’t have to learn so many of these “Girl Lessons” the hard way?

Sarah: Honestly, I think the kids are all right these days—I mean, Teen Vogue is doing some of the best, most intersectional journalism in media. This book exists. I am constantly inspired by the energy and awareness and activism of young people; I feel like I learn a lot more from them than they can possibly learn from me.

As far as people who advocate for young readers, I think one of the best things we can do is ask young people what they need most from us and then shut up and listen when they answer.

Kelly: What is the biggest thing you hope readers take away from your essay in Here We Are?

Sarah: One thing I wish I had known when I was younger was that becoming the person you want to be is a lifelong process. You don’t have to—you’re not going to—get it right straight out of the gate. If readers take away a little more compassion for themselves and for the other people around them who are struggling too, then my work here is done. For the most part, we’re all doing the best we can to thrive within a system that doesn’t want to see us flourish, and we’ll do a much better job of taking care of each other as part of a community of loving dreamers and empathetic activists than we will trying to go it on our own.

Meet Sarah McCarry

Sarah McCarry (therejectionist.com/@therejectionist) is the author of the novels All Our Pretty Songs, Dirty Wings, and About a Girl, and the editor and publisher of the chapbook series Guillotine. Her books have been nominated for the Norton Award, been a finalist for the Lambda Literary Awards, and shortlisted for the Tiptree Award, and she is the recipient of a fellowship from the MacDowell Colony. She has written for the New York Times Book Review, Glamour, Book Riot, Tor.com, and others.

Feminism is for Everyone: HERE WE ARE editor Kelly Jensen interviews contributor Daniel Jose Older

It’s day three of our week celebrating the release of Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World edited by Kelly Jensen. Today, Kelly joins us as she interviews one of the contributors, Daniel Jose Older. Be sure to visit our post from day one to enter to win a Feminist t-shirt!

“In our activism, it’s important we celebrate”: Daniel José Older on Feminism and Social Justice

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hereweare

Daniel José Older’s essay in Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World tackles the topic of the journey; he explores how he envisions feminism as a big, beautiful room where people of all strokes are dancing and enjoying themselves—taking turns showing off their moves when they feel so inspired—and how every individual in that room got there in their own way. From there, his essay expands to discuss how he himself found feminism and how it was art that really made it click.

Here’s a short excerpt from his essay:

Patriarchy has sharp teeth. The borders it draws around our identities and hearts are unforgiving and lined with broken glass and barbed wire. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls masculinity “a hard, small cage.” Our patriarchal gender norms, the rules that tell us how to fit into pre-assigned boxes labeled “man” and “woman,” have nothing to do with love and everything to do with power. They guide our steps and demolish our lives, our sense of self, our relationships. Because we have subscribed to them as a society, because they are normalized, they seep into our hearts and minds from our earliest contact with the world around us. They take root there, then metastasize.                                                           

My own journey to feminism required looking both outward and inward. It is an ongoing process that means learning and relearning how to listen, when to shut up, when to speak up. There is no map for the work of undoing that trauma within us—like all the great journeys, it is a road we make by walking. This is terrifying at first; there’s a false comfort in the sense that if we just follow these simple steps, we will get where we need to go.                                                           

But the harder truth contains its own truer joy—the beautiful struggle.

Daniel is no stranger to social justice, just as much as he’s no stranger to feminism. His work in protest, his work as a paramedic, and his work as a creative writer have all intersected to form his beliefs and guide his actions for doing right. His essay shows how no single path is the correct one; what matters is that the journey leads to this room full of people eager to advocate for equal rights and equal access for all.

Kelly Jensen: Your essay is about the moment when you came to understand “feminism” and owned the term and system of beliefs for yourself. Your vision of feminism as a giant party, full of those taking turns with their own moves, is one that really captures not just feminism, but social justice more broadly. Where did this sort of grand vision emerge in relation to your understanding of feminism?

Daniel J. Oseolder

Daniel Jose Older

 

Daniel José Older: In our activism, it’s so important that we celebrate. It gets really easy to be overwhelmed, particularly these days, with all the terrible things happening and feel like we’ve already lost before the struggle has even begun. But part of being alive and part of resistance is celebration. This also means we honor our different paths, our different voices — we can’t privilege one path or voice over another, as we have in the past. That will destroy us. So I believe in this great, celebratory room, and I think in order to really manifest that vision we have to be very self-aware, very accountable, very real with ourselves about where we are and where we’ve been and that means having some of the difficult conversations we’ve seen pop up in the past couple years especially.

Kelly: How and where do you see art, be it visual or verbal or written, as intersecting with social justice? What might be a couple great contemporary examples?

Daniel: We have to approach our work in the world, whether it’s organizing a rally or running workshops or political activism, with the same creativity we approach our artwork. There’s long been this idea that activism is this one cookie-cutter thing: do A then B then C and that’s activism. No! We have to be as interconnected and audacious and outrageous and most of all creative in our approach as possible, in part because oppression is itself quite interconnected and creative in thinking up ways to keep folks down and turn us against each other. Art and activism are not only not opposing elements, they are in fact one.

Kelly : In what ways have you incorporated social justice/feminism into your everyday life?

Daniel: I believe if we’re not approaching life in general, whether it’s how we live, how we love, how we work, how we make art, from a feminist or womanist perspective, we are by default doing it from a sexist perspective. That is the status quo, it’s what we’re taught. To move beyond patriarchy we have to actively engage ourselves to think critically about what we’re doing and how we do it. So for me, being a cis/straight male, that means I have to both check in and check myself regularly to make sure I’m not enacting the violent behavior that is a part of our legacy. It means I have to be able to listen and step back, whether that’s in a social space or an activist one or an artist one.

Kelly: What are some of your favorite books and/or resources that would benefit all readers eager and curious about social justice/feminism?

Daniel: Both Twitter and Tumblr are tremendous gathering places of brilliant feminist thinkers. Yes there are trolls, there are downsides, there are disputes, but over all, when we step back, what we’re seeing is an amazing, global conversation about feminism and patriarchy and its intersections with race and class that is very needed. I’ve also learned a lot from great books like Joan Morgan’s When Chickenheads Come Home To Roost, bell hooks, the anthology This Bridge Called My Back, Beyoncé’s Lemonade.

Kelly: How can young readers and those who advocate on their behalf better prepare themselves to be actively engaged with social justice and feminism? You came to your understanding in your mid-20s; we’re seeing teens today standing their ground and fighting for the causes they believe in (including the protest walkouts and more in the aftermath of the election). Do you think today’s teens are more engaged with the movement? Any idea why that might be and how it can be actively cultivated and encouraged?

Daniel: They are much more engaged and it’s amazing to behold. It gives hope, to be honest. I see the way young folks are being badass and unstoppable and real with each other and the world and I feel like somehow, we’re gonna be alright. I give a lot of credit to social media for that, it’s allowed access to this conversation in a way that we’ve never seen before. It’s an exciting time to be alive and be a feminist.

Kelly: What is the biggest thing you hope readers take away from your essay in Here We Are?

Daniel: I hope they see that feminism, as bell hooks said years ago, is indeed for everybody. That there are many, many ways to jump into the conversation and change the world.

Meet Daniel Jose Older

Daniel José Older is the author of the young adult novel Shadowshaper (Scholastic, 2015), a New York Times Notable Book of 2015, which was shortlisted for the Kirkus Prize in Young Readers’ Literature and the Andre Norton Award, and named one of Esquire’s 80 Books Every Person Should Read. He also writes the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series. You can explore his thoughts on writing, read dispatches from his decade-long career as an NYC paramedic, hear his music at danieljoseolder.net, and find him on Twitter at @djolder.