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Book Review: Throwaway Girls by Andrea Contos

Publisher’s Book Description:

Caroline Lawson is three months away from freedom, otherwise known as graduation day. That’s when she’ll finally escape her rigid prep school and the parents who thought they could convert her to being straight.

Until then, Caroline is keeping her head down, pretending to be the perfect student even though she is crushed by her family and heartbroken over the girlfriend who left for California.

But when her best friend Madison disappears, Caroline feels compelled to get involved in the investigation. She has her own reasons not to trust the police, and she owes Madison — big time.

Suddenly Caroline realizes how little she knew of what her friend was up to. Caroline has some uncomfortable secrets about the hours before Madison disappeared, but they’re nothing compared to the secrets Madison has been hiding. And why does Mr. McCormack, their teacher, seem to know so much about them?

It’s only when Caroline discovers other missing girls that she begins to close in on the truth. Unlike Madison, the other girls are from the wrong side of the tracks. Unlike Madison’s, their disappearances haven’t received much attention. Caroline is determined to find out what happened to them and why no one seems to notice. But as every new discovery leads Caroline closer to the connection between these girls and Madison, she faces an unsettling truth.

There’s only one common denominator between the disappearances: Caroline herself.

Karen’s Thoughts:

This was an intense read. From the moment we meet Caroline we are drawn into her quest not just for her missing friend Madison, but for herself after her girlfriend Willa has left her. Caroline was already broken and barely hanging on, and then her world truly comes unraveling. I actually really hated Caroline, she’s jaded and angry and lost, but it’s all deserved and understandable and I felt compassion for her. I was invested in her story; she is truly a deeply moving and complicated main character.

Throwaway Girls uses some really great storytelling devices to keep you invested. There are chapters told by an unknown narrator that keep you wondering. There are twists and turns. And there is the truth about missing girls and powerful men and how our society treats both of them. This is the type of novel that entertains and enlightens, pulling back the curtain on serious issues and asking us as readers to think deeply about them. And think about them you will, for a very long time.

Although the title of this novel is Throwaway Girls and it is definitely about that, the thing that I am still left thinking about days later is what this book tells us about powerful men. This is a story full of powerful men who keep secrets, abuse their power, and feel like they are entitled to the world. And at the end of the day, when all the truths are finally revealed, the people in their lives are still more worried about protecting the image of these monsters disguised as men then they are protecting the “throwaway girls” who will now have to navigate life broken and struggling with lifelong trauma. I walked away from the pages of this powerful and moving novel shaking with rage at the truths revealed. You can jump on to Google right now and find thousands of real life stories that validate the underlying premise of Throwaway Girls, and that will never not make me angry.

The topic of Throwaway Girls is not new to YA, but it’s definitely dealt with in powerful and meaningful ways here. I would recommend adding Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson to a reading of this book. While Throwaway Girls talks very much about socio-economic disadvantage and how some girls have more worth then others when they go missing, and Monday’s Not Coming adds the reality of race and racism into this discussion. Both points of view are powerful.

In addition to the discussion of missing girls, Throwaway Girls deals a lot with Caroline and her sexual identity. Caroline is a lesbian growing up in a conservative family who has sent her to conversion therapy. She struggles with mental health issues – she takes medication for anxiety – and she has attempted suicide in the pass. She’s just hanging on until the age of 18 so that she can leave and start her real life where she can be her authentic self. My heart broke for her and this book really highlights how lack of support and acceptance can seriously harm our youth.

This is a heavy book, full of complicated conversations and relationships. There is no happy ending, even with a lot of important plot lines resolved. It’s a dark exploration of meaningful and realistic topics that populate the landscape of teen lives. It’s moving and powerful . . . and it’s important. Pretty politically relevant as well. Definitely recommended.

This book will be released September 1st by Kids Can Press

Sourcebooks Fire Week: Some Advice for my Teen Self While Social Distancing by Alyssa Sheinmel

Today for Sourcebooks Fire week we are honored to have author Alyssa Sheinmel with us talking about her newest release, What Kind of Girl. She also discusses why sheltering in place is different than working from home and gives teens advice about social distancing. What Kind of Girl is an important book that addresses the topic of teen dating violence in meaningful and thoughtful ways.

I should be an expert on working from home—I’ve been doing it for years.  I have know plenty of writers who prefer to work at coffee shops and writing-rooms; or who write with friends, motivated by the sound of their colleagues’ fingers on the keyboard.  Not me—I get up each morning and sit at my desk in my apartment, happy to have my dog as my only co-worker.  Even when my writing group meets twice a month, we usually meet at my apartment. 

I was the same way as a teen.  While most of my friends and classmates preferred to work at the library, in our dorm’s common areas, or to get together for study groups at coffee shops—I always studied in my room, heading to the library only when absolutely necessary. 

As I write this, my family and I—along with most of the country, and much of the world—have been practicing social distancing for over a month.  Like so many Americans, I’ve been overwhelmed with gratitude that my loved ones and I are able to stay home, and I’m awed by the heroism of our health care workers and those that are working to keep our grocery stores and pharmacies stocked and their doors open.  I’m filled with worry for those who have lost their income due to this pandemic, and fear and grief for those who have fallen sick. 

So of course, working from home right now feels different.  Everything feels different.  There’s this feeling in the air like—you’re home every day, you should be writing, Shakespeare wrote King Lear in quarantine!—but my usual writing routines aren’t quite working.  Normally, I read for twenty minutes before I start writing for the day; now, I find myself checking the news instead.  Usually, when I sit down to write, I put my computer into airplane mode and (try to) leave my phone in the other room; now, I feel compelled to keep my phone close by, in case anyone calls or texts.  This is a small problem, I know, in light of all the troubles we’re facing right now.  But it feels strange—I feel strange—to have trouble concentrating on my work each day.

I can only imagine that studying from home as a teen would feel as different as everything else right now.  I’d be worrying about the world and missing my friends terribly.  I’d be missing school—like many of my characters, I was one of those kids who loved school, who worried endlessly about grades and college applications.  I know I’d be anxious to keep up with my schoolwork—and yet, I think I’d struggle to stay still long enough to finish my assignments.  Which would only make me more anxious.  And then I’d feel terrible for worrying about grades at a time like this.  And then I’d feel anxious all over again.

While I’ve been at home over the past few weeks, I’ve been on deadline—working on the final round of edits for my upcoming novel.  There are mornings when I wake up, thinking it will be impossible to concentrate that day.  But then, I sit in front of my computer.  I put my computer into airplane mode, just like I usually do.  I start with one sentence.  I feel myself getting distracted, stopping to check the news, wanting to clean my kitchen (again!), text my friends and family, or just be with my dog.  But then I read another sentence.  The distractions fade, just a bit.  One more sentence, then another.  I start to get sucked in, interested in my characters and their world, instead of thinking about my own, and I feel so grateful to have the job I do.

And I don’t know about you, but the same thing happens when I pick up a book to read.  A few weeks ago, I thought I’d at least make a dent in my TBR list this month, but these days, I’m reading more slowly than I ever have.  Every time I pick up my current read, I feel distracted, restless.  I put the book down and check my phone, turn on the news.  But then I read another sentence, another paragraph.  Sometimes I put the book down, but sometimes, I stay still and keep reading.  Writing and reading are always a way of taking a break—even if it’s just a short one—from the world around us, and I appreciate that magic now more than ever. 

So, if I could, I’d encourage my teen self to write a story—even a terrible story that ends up not making any sense at all, one that she’d be too embarrassed to share with her teachers—just to get sucked into another world for a little while.  I’d encourage her to pick up a book she’s read so many times she can practically recite it, and eat it up like comfort food.

None of us has ever lived through a time like this, so none of us actually knows how to do it.  Maybe someday, I won’t remember the plots to any books I read during this period, and maybe I’ll want to rewrite every word I wrote.  (Including this blog post!)  I’m so very thankful for reading and writing—but there are days when it’s hard to do either, and I’m trying to accept that.  I hope someone would tell my teen self that it’s okay if she’s having trouble finishing her homework, or writing a story, or reading a novel.  But I think she would keep trying, over and over again. 

After all, that’s what my grown-up self is doing.

About WHAT KIND OF GIRL

“Both timely and timeless, a powerful exploration of abuse in its many forms, as well as the strength it takes to rise up and speak your truth.”—AMBER SMITHNew York Times bestselling author of The Way I Used to Be

What kind of girl stays after her boyfriend hits her?

The girls at North Bay Academy are taking sides. It all started when Mike Parker’s girlfriend showed up with a bruise on her face. Or, more specifically, when she walked into the principal’s office and said Mike hit her. But her classmates have questions. Why did she go to the principal and not the police? Why did she stay so long if Mike was hurting her? Obviously, if it’s true, Mike should be expelled. But is it true?

Some girls want to rally for his expulsion—and some want to rally around Mike. The only thing that the entire student body can agree on? Someone is lying. And the truth has to come out.

From New York Times bestselling author Alyssa Sheinmel comes an unflinching and resonant tale that examines how society treats women and girls and inspires the power to claim your worth.

Praise for What Kind of Girl:
“A poignant, thought-provoking novel that will resonate deeply.”—Kirkus
“A rallying cry.”—Booklist
“I immediately saw myself in this book, which so thoroughly explains the thought process when coming to terms with victimhood and survivorship. I felt understood.”—Chessy Prout, author of I Have the Right To
“Important, raw, timely, and ultimately hopeful…demands readers discuss the trauma of teen dating violence and how girls are so often taught—even expected—to internalize their victimization.”—Shannon M. Parker, author of The Girl Who Fell and The Rattled Bones

Meet the Author

Alyssa Sheinmel is the New York Times bestselling author of several novels for young adults, including A Danger to Herself and Others and Faceless. She is the co-author of The Haunting of Sunshine Girl and its sequel, The Awakening of Sunshine Girl. Alyssa grew up in Northern California and New York, and currently lives and writes in New York City. Follow her on Instagram @alyssasheinmel and Twitter @AlyssaSheinmel or visit her online at www.alyssasheinmel.com.

Sourcebooks Fire Week: When Are We Going to Stop Policing Girls Bodies? by Laura Bates

Today for Sourcebooks Fire week we have an excellent post by author Laura Bates. Laura Bates is the author of the forthcoming The Burning, a book which blew me and The Teen away when we read it. It’s a really solid addition to the canon of feminist YA titles and I look forward to everyone reading and talking about it.

Teenage girls’ bodies are under siege. Across the country and around the world, girls are being sent out of classrooms or sent home altogether because schools believe that a glimpse of their knees, or their collarbones, or shoulders, or (shock horror) a sliver of their bra strap is so unacceptable that it must be punished. Again and again, girls who are trying to learn are told that their education must suffer because “boys might get distracted” or “it’s not fair on male teachers”. But if you’ve got a school where boys are looking up girls’ skirts or male teachers are made to feel uncomfortable by the fact that teenagers have knees, then I’ve got news for you: the girls are not the problem.

Thankfully, girls are fighting back. “I am not a distraction”, one campaign powerfully points out. It feels like a very modern battle cry – a roar of frustration from girls in the 21st Century who are furious that their education is being compromised and nobody is listening. But this isn’t a modern problem.

Several hundred years ago, a wave of witchcraft trials swept across the world, and thousands of people (mostly women) were executed for a crime that doesn’t really exist. The witchcraft craze was sexist: it saw women as powerful and dangerous, their sexuality and bodies as something to be policed, and public hysteria a means to control them. They used a tool called a ‘scolds bridle’ – a metal torture device fitted over a woman’s head like a cage, with a sharp blade forced into her mouth to cut her tongue if she spoke. Women were forcibly, violently silenced. In other words, prejudice had devastating real-world consequences.

But how much has really changed? Having body parts isn’t a crime either, but we are still punishing girls for it. And it’s strange how we don’t seem concerned about boys’ knees or shoulders being on display.

Accused ‘witches’ found themselves trapped in an impossible situation. Forced into freezing cold water, they were considered innocent if they drowned, but if they floated they must have been saved by the devil or used their magic powers, so they were ‘proven’ to be witches and often executed. They were damned either way. And the same remains true for girls today. They live in a world that sends them a million pressurizing messages about their bodies, their clothes, their sexuality. Everything from music videos to magazines to television to social media bombards them with the message that their bodies are the sum-total of their worth. And then they arrive at school to have those same bodies shamed, censored and stigmatized. We’re taught that we only have value if we are ‘sexy’. Then we’re punished and shamed for being ‘too sexy’. You’re either a slut or you’re frigid. There’s no way to win. In the 17th Century, ‘witches’ were forced to wear a hair shirt and stand in front of the church congregation to be publicly humiliated. In the 21st Century, schools have ‘shame suits’ instead.

Women who were accused of being witches were tortured by being kept awake for days at a time. Thrown into jail cells, they were pricked with a long needle whenever they tried to fall asleep in a barbaric process called ‘waking the witch’. There was no escape, no break, no let up. Today the bars of those cages are virtual, but they exist all the same. There is no escape from the relentlessness of social media, from the painful pricks of hurtful comments and online abuse, flooding in 24 hours a day. In its own way, it is a new form of torture. And just like those brutal, centuries old techniques, the consequences can be fatal. 

The double standards back then were breathtaking. Men were terrified of women’s sexuality, with surviving records of witchcraft trials often making reference to fornication with the devil, or women who exerted strange and powerful control over men, making them act in ways they claimed not to be able to control. It might sound laughable now. But really, we are still making the same excuses for men: still punishing girls for boys’ transgressions. Girls who are harassed or even assaulted at school are repeatedly told they were ‘asking for it’ – blamed for what they were wearing, or where they were, or how they behaved. But we will never fix this problem unless we focus on perpetrators instead of victims. We’ve tried policing girls’ bodies for 400 years. It hasn’t worked. Isn’t it time we tried something else instead?

About THE BURNING by Laura Bates

A rumor is like fire.

Once a whore, always a whore.

Roses are red.
Violets are blue.
Anna’s a slut.
We all know it’s true.

And a fire that spreads online… is impossible to extinguish.

New school. Check.
New town. Check.
New last name. Check.
Social media profiles? Deleted.

Anna and her mother have moved hundreds of miles to put the past behind them. Anna hopes to make a fresh start and escape the harassment she’s been subjected to. But then rumors and whispers start, and Anna tries to ignore what is happening by immersing herself in  learning about Maggie, a local woman accused of witchcraft in the seventeenth century. A woman who was shamed. Silenced. And whose story has unsettling parallels to Anna’s own.

From Laura Bates, internationally renowned feminist and founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, comes a debut novel for the #metoo era. It’s a powerful call to action, reminding all readers of the implications of sexism and the role we can each play in ending it.

“In The Burning, Bates challenges us all to think deeply and critically about a lot of issues surrounding teen girls… Definitely recommended.” – Teen Librarian Toolbox

“A painfully realistic, spellbinding novel.” – Shelf Awareness

Book Review: The Burning by Laura Bates

Publisher’s Book Description:

A rumour is like a fire. You might think you’ve extinguished it but one creeping, red tendril, one single wisp of smoke is enough to let it leap back into life again. Especially if someone is watching, waiting to fan the flames …

New school.
Tick.
New town.
Tick.
New surname.
Tick.
Social media profiles?
Erased.

There’s nothing to trace Anna back to her old life. Nothing to link her to the ‘incident’.

At least that’s what she thinks … until the whispers start up again. As time begins to run out on her secrets, Anna finds herself irresistibly drawn to the tale of Maggie, a local girl accused of witchcraft centuries earlier. A girl whose story has terrifying parallels to Anna’s own…

The compelling YA debut from Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project and bestselling author of Girl Up.

Karen’s Thoughts:

The Burning is very much designed to be feminist literature that ties in several issues of today – slut shaming, revenge porn, female sexuality and reproductive rights – and links them to historical issues of the past, including witch burning. There was a time when my teen patrons couldn’t read enough books about witches and the witch trials of the past and I would have loved to have had this book to hand to them. It deftly draws a distinct line between the fervency of the witch trials to the patriarchy and the ways in which we try to repress, control and then shame female sexuality.

This book is set in Scotland and Anna and her mom have just moved to escape the intense slut shaming and bullying that Anna was receiving online and in real life. Soon after her father passed away Anna found herself in love, at least it felt like love, and over time with some grooming and intense pressure and emotional coercion, Anna shares some nudes with her boyfriend. When he asks for me she refuses and he retaliates by leaking what she has already shared in an act of revenge porn.

Revenge porn has been defined by the government as “the sharing of private, sexual materials, either photos or videos, of another person without their consent and with the purpose of causing embarrassment or distress.”

Source: Psych Central https://psychcentral.com/blog/what-is-revenge-porn/

While in her new home and new school, Anna begins researching for a local history assignment and learns of Maggie, a woman who appears to have been accused of witchcraft. Anna develops a strong interest in and seems to have an even stronger link to this young woman, and the parallels between what the two have been and are going through are inescapable.

Because the Internet is forever, Anna soon finds herself once again being tormented by her past. And as her torment escalates, she is drawn even more deeply into the web of history surrounding Maggie. The two events are weaved together and used to talk about the ways in which we have tried to control, shame, and eviscerate young girls who dare to embrace their sexuality. The Burning doesn’t fail to point out, either, the double standard that we hold for girls and boys when it comes to bodies, sex, or sexuality.

Issues touched on include the historical witch trials, sexting, revenge porn, deepfakes, reproductive rights, bullying, slut shaming, and LGBTQ representation. There are frank discussions about sex, nude photos, and pornography in this book, though I think they are all obviously necessary to the book and handled well.

There’s a lot to unpack and discuss in The Burning, which isn’t surprising given the author’s previous work and writings. Laura Bates is an unabashed feminist who founded the Everyday Sexism project in 2012. In The Burning, Bates challenges us all to think deeply and critically about a lot of issues surrounding teen girls. Towards the end of the book several characters make radical choices and powerful statements that made me cheer. Definitely recommended.

This book will be released April 7th, 2020 from Sourcefire Books. I read an ARC of this book and immediately handed it over to my teenage daughter so that we can talk about it.

Kicky’s Post It Note Reviews: A Teen Reviews He Must Like You, My Eyes are Up Here and Four Days of You and Me

It’s time for another installment of Kicky’s Post It Reviews, in which The Teen reviews some of the recent YA lit she has been reading.

Publisher’s Book Description:

A new swoon-worthy romance following a couple’s love story on the same date over four years.

Every May 7, the students at Coffee County High School take a class trip. And every year, Lulu’s relationship with Alex Rouvelis gets a little more complicated. Freshman year, they went from sworn enemies to more than friends after a close encounter in an escape room. It’s been hard for Lulu to quit Alex ever since.

Through breakups, make ups, and dating other people, each year’s class trip brings the pair back together and forces them to confront their undeniable connection. From the science museum to an amusement park, from New York City to London, Lulu learns one thing is for sure: love is the biggest trip of all. 

Post It Note Review: Super cute and had a very optimistic perspective.

Some Added Info: As you may now, The Teen usually reads murder books. Lots and lots of murder books. So I was surprised when she picked this book out of the ARC pile and even more surprised that she liked it. But when I mentioned that it’s different than her typical read she very astutely replied, “sometimes you just need to read something fun.”

This book comes out May 5th from Sourcefire Books

Publisher’s Book Description:

Libby’s having a rough senior year. Her older brother absconded with his college money and is bartending on a Greek island. Her dad just told her she’s got to pay for college herself, and he’s evicting her when she graduates so he can Airbnb her room. A drunken hook-up with her coworker Kyle has left her upset and confused. So when Perry Ackerman, serial harasser and the most handsy customer at The Goat where she waitresses, pushes her over the edge, she can hardly be blamed for dumping a pitcher of sangria on his head. Unfortunately, Perry is a local industry hero, the restaurant’s most important customer, and Libby’s mom’s boss. Now Libby has to navigate the fallout of her outburst, find an apartment, and deal with her increasing rage at the guys who’ve screwed up her life–and her increasing crush on the one guy who truly gets her. As timely as it is timeless, He Must Like You is a story about consent, rage, and revenge, and the potential we all have to be better people.

Post It Note Review: Talks about a lot of important issues in a good way.

Additional Information: The Teen talked to me about this book and she’s not wrong, it talks about a lot of important issues including social media use and privacy, sexual harassment and what happens when a teen turns 18. We had a lot of conversations surrounding this book and we both highly recommend it.

This book doesn’t come out until July 14th from Viking Books, but you should definitely get it.

Publisher’s Book Description:

My Eyes Are Up Here is YA novel from debut author Laura Zimmerman about a teenage girl struggling to rediscover her balance—and her voice—in the year after a surprising growth spurt.

A “monomial” is a simple algebraic expression consisting of a single term. 30H, for example. 15-year-old Greer Walsh hasn’t been fazed by basic algebra since fifth grade, but for the last year, 30H has felt like an unsolvable equation–one that’s made her world a very small, very lonely place. 30H is her bra size–or it was the last time anyone checked. She stopped letting people get that close to her with a tape measure a while ago.

Ever since everything changed the summer before ninth grade, Greer has felt out of control. She can’t control her first impressions, the whispers that follow, or the stares that linger after. The best she can do is put on her faithful XXL sweatshirt and let her posture–and her expectations for other people–slump.

But people—strangers and friends—seem strangely determined to remind her that life is not supposed to be this way. Despite carefully avoiding physical contact and anything tighter than a puffy coat, Greer finds an unexpected community on the volleyball squad, the team that hugs between every point and wears a uniform “so tight it can squeeze out tears.” And then there’s Jackson Oates, newly arrived at her school and maybe actually more interested in her banter than her breasts.

Laura Zimmermann’s debut is both laugh-out-loud funny and beautifully blunt, vulnerable and witty, heartbreaking and hopeful. And it will invite readers to look carefully at a girl who just wants to be seen for all she is. 

Post It Note Review: Very body positive and shows girls supporting other girls in a great way.

Additional Information: This book moved The Teen to sobbing tears several times, in good ways. Many girls will resonate with this story of trying to learn to love your body and be comfortable with the skin you’re in. We are both so glad that this book exists and it brought about a lot of important, meaningful dialogue for us both. Highly recommended.

This book comes out June 24th from Dutton Books for Young Readers.