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Book Review: Welcome Home edited by Eric Smith

Publisher’s description

Welcome Home collects a number of adoption-themed fictional short stories, and brings them together in one anthology from a diverse range of celebrated Young Adult authors. The all-star roster includes Edgar-award winner Mindy McGinnis, New York Times best-selling authors C.J. Redwine (The Shadow Queen) and William Ritter (Jackaby), and acclaimed YA authors across all genres. The full list of contributors includes: Adi Alsaid, Karen Akins, Erica M. Chapman, Caela Carter, Libby Cudmore, Dave Connis, Julie Eshbaugh, Helene Dunbar, Lauren Gibaldi, Shannon Gibney, Jenny Kaczorowski, Julie Leung, Sangu Mandanna, Matthew Quinn Martin, Mindy McGinnis, Lauren Morrill, Tameka Mullins, Sammy Nickalls, Shannon Parker, C.J. Redwine, Randy Ribay, William Ritter, Stephanie Scott, Natasha Sinel, Eric Smith, Courtney C. Stevens, Nic Stone, Kate Watson, and Tristina Wright.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

welcome homeI generally read and review books in order of publication date and rarely go back to fit in anything I had missed previously. I just get too many books to consider to not just keep plowing forward. Unless someone finally figures out how to have reading all night make me feel as rested as actually sleeping does, that’s just the way it will stay—I try to read as much as humanly possible, but miss an awful lot. That said, I wanted to sneak in WELCOME HOME before the year ends because it’s such a unique and important collection.

As with any anthology, the stories are somewhat uneven, with many stories standing out better than others. Also, stories of just a handful of pages are not always really given enough time to actually develop in a satisfying way. BUT, I happen to love a good anthology. You can pick and choose, go back later, skim things, discover new writers (to me, that’s always the most exciting part of an anthology), and get what feel like extra bonus stories you wouldn’t otherwise get from old favorites. I’m glad to see anthologies making a comeback these days. They really appeal to a certain kind of reader, so I hope this book, and others like it, land in all libraries and get talked up and promoted.

There’s a lot to like about this book. Multiple genres are featured and though all of the pieces revolve around adoption, foster care, family, and love, there is a lot of variety in tone and content, which keeps the collection from feeling repetitive. Plots include an adopted superhero, a nearly too late reunion, a mother in prison, the death of an adoptive parent, a mute child in an orphanage, transracial adoption, a child taken back by a birth parent, a pregnant teen trying to decide what choice to make, a genealogy assignment, and more. Themes of love, support, friendship, family, and belonging permeate all of the stories. This diverse collection of short pieces is a welcome addition to YA, where we don’t necessarily see a lot about adoption. Get this on display in your libraries to help it get into the hands of kids who will recognize their own stories in this collection. A great look at the many ways families are made up and come together. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781635830040
Publisher: North Star Editions
Publication date: 09/05/2017

Sunday Reflections: Please Don’t Ask Me How My Summer (or My Childhood) Was! A reflection on assignments and writing prompts

sundayreflections1She came to the Teen MakerSpace every day. Until she didn’t.

Just a few weeks before school we learned that she had been sent to another state to live with extended family because both of her parents were now in jail.

2.3% of U.S. youth under the age of 18 have a parent in prison. That translates to over 2 in every 100 youth, or 1,706,600 youth overall. (source: http://blog.tpronline.org/?p=227)

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By the time he reached Kindergarten, he has already been placed in a couple of different foster homes. He doesn’t have any pictures of when he was a baby. And we can only hope that he doesn’t remember the broken bones and cigarette burns that led to him being taken from his biological home.

On any given day, there are over 415,000 children in foster care. These children will remain in state care for an average of two years. (Source: http://www.childrensrights.org/newsroom/fact-sheets/foster-care/)

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One of my best friends is the parent to children adopted from foster care. She is one of the many families I know that have fostered or fostered to adopt children. And she recently pointed out an issue that I had never thought about, even though I have advocated right here for more representation of teens in foster homes in YA literature. You see, two of the most popular assignments, especially for back to school, is the “tell me about your summer” or “tell me about your family assignment”. For many kids and teens, this is a loaded question. It’s dangerous. It’s complex. It’s not territory that they want to dive into publicly.

Bring in a baby picture? I can’t, none exist.

Tell you about my childhood? I spent years in and out of foster homes, living out of a plastic bag and recovering from broken bones or sexual abuse.

Tell you about my summer? I spent the summer visiting my mom and dad in jail until I was sent to live here.

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I spent the summer between my 3rd and 4th grade year sleeping weekends on the floor of a single bedroom apartment while my parents navigated a divorce and tried to go from a two-income home to a single-income home. It would take many years before we were financially stable again. That summer, like many of the summers that would come after that one, quite frankly sucked. Want to know what we did? We cried a lot. We fought a lot. We tried to ignore our hunger a lot. We survived. But barely.

So here’s what I propose: we need to rethink the assignments that we give our kids in school. We need to acknowledge that many of our kids are suffering in ways that we can’t imagine and not make their school grades dependent on them sharing that suffering with us or publicly because many times they are not ready.

The number of children and teens that I know that come from stable and supportive homes is remarkably low. So why are we still asking them to share their family histories, their birth stories, or how their summer went? Possibly out of habit. Possibly out of denial. Often from a place of privilege or idealization. But the truth is, these are irresponsible assignments and writing prompts in a world where approximately 50% of marriages end in divorce, where 1 in 4 adults struggles with mental illness, where 1 in 4 people are the victims of sexual abuse, and where hundreds of thousands of kids are being placed into foster homes.

So it’s time to rethink the assignments and writing prompts that we give our kids. If you still see value in asking about birth stories or summer or childhood memories, then please give your students choices so that they don’t have to share that information if they don’t want to. Instead of one writing prompt give four or five.

Or ask your students to share who they are in more meaningful ways if your goal is getting to know you. Instead of asking about birth and early childhood, ask them about their favorites: favorite foods, favorite colors, favorite songs, books or movies.

We need to rethink the information we are asking our children and teens to share. We need to recognize that many of them are dealing with and trying to process trauma and that they should be allowed to do that in their own time and in their own way. We need to actively avoid scenarios in the classroom that might somehow out information that they don’t want or are not yet ready to share.

So before you ask children and teens to share childhood stories or pictures about their childhood or summer, please consider that many of the children and teens sitting in your classroom don’t have good stories to share right now and ask a different question instead.

Book Review: Run by Kody Keplinger

Publisher’s description

RUNBo Dickinson is a girl with a wild reputation, a deadbeat dad, and a mama who’s not exactly sober most of the time. Everyone in town knows the Dickinsons are a bad lot, but Bo doesn’t care what anyone thinks.

Agnes Atwood has never gone on a date, never even stayed out past ten, and never broken any of her parents’ overbearing rules. Rules that are meant to protect their legally blind daughter — protect her from what, Agnes isn’t quite sure.

Despite everything, Bo and Agnes become best friends. And it’s the sort of friendship that runs truer and deeper than anything else.

So when Bo shows up in the middle of the night, with police sirens wailing in the distance, desperate to get out of town, Agnes doesn’t hesitate to take off with her. But running away and not getting caught will require stealing a car, tracking down Bo’s dad, staying ahead of the authorities, and-worst of all-confronting some ugly secrets.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Well, this was fantastic. The narrative voices, the vivid setting, the story, the writing… all fantastic. The girls take turns narrating the two timelines of the story, with Bo narrating the present and Agnes narrating the backstory. This is a great friendship story about opposites attracting. Bisexual Bo has a bad reputation—she comes from a “bad” family and her peers label her a slut and spread infinite rumors about her. Legally blind Agnes is a good girl, a “poor sweet blind girl” who’s never been given the chance to be “bad.” Or the chance to do anything. Both girls are in desperate need of a real friend. Despite their differences, they grow close, forming a tight bond based on respect, support, kindness, and true friendship. We see their friendship grow through Agnes’s narration. Meanwhile, in Bo’s timeline, we know the girls are on the run, but we don’t know why. It appears that they are headed to make a new start somewhere… that is, if the police don’t catch them first.

 

Also, and probably obviously, this book is noteworthy because it features a blind main character. Agnes uses a cane, talks repeatedly about using enlarged print or braille and other school accommodations, and has lived her whole life with people treating her like she’s some kind of special angel because she’s blind. Agnes longs to be given more freedom. Bo knows Agnes doesn’t need her help to do lots of basic stuff, but is always there for her if she does need assistance. Agnes’s relationship with her parents and her expectations for her future are both heavily shaped by her disability. We learn a lot about what being blind means for Agnes on a day-to-day basis but also what it means for her in a larger sense.

 

One of the main problems with alternate narration is that it’s often so hard to tell the characters apart. Keplinger does a great job of making Bo and Agnes sound very different both in the things they say and how they say them. We can tell early on that Bo isn’t as tough as she seems and Agnes isn’t as meek as people believe her to be.  This is an easy recommendation for anyone who likes a road trip book, an adventure, a Thelma and Louise-type story, a friendship story, or an opposites attract story. Highly recommended. 

 

 ISBN-13: 9780545831130

Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.

Publication date: 06/28/2016

Reflections of Reality: Foster Teens and Orphans in Young Adult Science Fiction, a guest post by Kerry Sutherland

In 2013, there were 510,000 American children in foster care. 40% of foster children are between the ages of 13 and 21 years old. 9% of foster care teens will age out of the foster care system and are more likely to experience homelessness. You can find more Foster Care Statitics and follow a link to find your state statistics here. See also the Child Welfare Information Gateway. I have often felt that foster teens were very under-represented in YA literature. If you expand the definition to include teens who are being raised by relatives or family friends, like grandparents for example, than what I see happening in my local communities is not being reflected in YA literature at all. Today guest poster and librarian Kerry Sutherland discusses foster care in YA science fiction.

As a science fiction fan, I don’t usually seek out realistic fiction for pleasure reading. As a School Library Journal reviewer, I often receive realistic fiction to review, and my work on the In the Margins Book Award and Selection Committee revolves almost entirely on realistic stories that would appeal to young people in marginalized situations, so most of what I read that is contemporary and true-to-life comes from these two sources. A big part of adolescent development revolves around learning that the world doesn’t revolve around “me,” and that the “others” around us need our attention, concern, and empathy, so as I have been reading the many disturbing stories (some nonfiction) for my In the Margins work over the past year and a half, I began to wonder how young adult readers with my reading preferences might connect to these “others” if the situations in the stories they read are fantastic and outrageous. This question lurked in the back of my mind during my recreational reading, and I noticed that authors of some recent young adult science fiction not only include orphaned or foster teen characters but they integrate those characters’ vulnerability into the plot itself, so readers can’t help but make the connection between the characters’ orphaned or foster care status and the difficulties they face, even though the storylines themselves are spectacularly and entertainingly unrealistic. A line from the title story in one of my favorite short story collections of the past year, Jean Thompson’s The Witch, jumped out at me as I was thinking on this: “There is no greater powerlessness than being a child.” These three books absolutely enforce that sad reality, and in doing so, show many teen readers an alternate reality they might not otherwise understand or even care about: a reality where young people are without supervision, without care, and as such, vulnerable to exploitation for adult gain.

tabularasaUsing vulnerable children is the focus of medical researchers in Kristen Lippert-Martin’s Tabula Rasa, where inmates of juvenile detention centers, most of whom are wards of the state and without an adult who has an emotional interest in them, are targets for experiments that involve erasing their memories. Not surprisingly, most of these kids “jumped at the chance” to participate in these experiments, knowing that the opportunity might be their only hope to have a future as an adult without their painful pasts as emotional baggage. How many of these children, like so many in reality, are in custody for no other reason than their status as orphans or foster children who have acted out their frustration, depression, and confusion in attempts to take control over their lives? A nurse at the research facility tells Sarah, the main character, that she is “a girl with a violent past, a bad attitude, and no future. Just like the rest of them.” What little she knows of Sarah, who has, at this point, difficulty with her memory, is what the authorities have told her, and her last statement is very telling of her general judgment of all her teenage patients who have been culled from detention. No future – so the present treatment of these neglected children is of no consequence, as they have no value except as experimental material. Hopeless and expendable, and as Sarah discovers of the woman who killed her mother and now targets Sarah: “I am a thing to her. Nothing more.”

vaultofdreamersThe disturbing experimentation in Caragh O’Brien’s The Vault of Dreamers involves indigent children as well, who are mined of their dreams which are then sold to the rich for their entertainment. Students at a high school for the arts promoted as a reality television show are monitored, without their knowledge or consent, for seeds of dreams that expand in the brains of a group of comatose children who belong to no one and are kept locked away, alive in a dream state, cared for physically by those who only do so in order to use them. How different is this than the fate of the main character Ruby’s love interest, Linus, who donates blood on a monthly basis to pay his rent? Linus chooses to donate in an effort to save his friend Otis’s partner, Parker, who has Alzheimer’s Disease, but the doctor at the school infirmary insists that Linus doesn’t “have to let them tap you. I can’t see that it’s making any difference for him. I’ve told Otis that many times.” Linus is seventeen now, and nearly an adult who can make such a decision on his own, but his donations started when he was thirteen, just after running away from foster care, when “nobody looked too hard for me when I cut out on my own.” An orphan, he had nowhere to go, and fell prey first to a photographer looking for a swimsuit model and then to Otis, who may mean well and treat Linus kindly, but by the time Ruby meets Linus, the balance of power is becoming more level and the vampiric nature of the relationship is coming to light. As an orphan and then a forgotten foster child, Linus was an easy target for Otis, who finds nothing wrong with trading parental concern for blood, and a young Linus was willing to take a chance, because really, how many choices did he have at the time?

bzrkTaking chances is what Billy the Kid in one of my favorite series, Michael Grant’s BZRK, is all about. Billy the Kid, as he calls himself, enjoys the freedom that his disinterested foster parent allows, as he comes and goes as he pleases and spends enough time gaming online that his scores, posted in a forum, draw the attention of the insane and anonymous leader of the guerrilla group BZRK. Billy uses this opportunity to throw himself into the exciting and adventurous life BZRK offers. At thirteen years old, he takes ridiculous chances with his life with the encouragement of his compatriots (which include other teens) who do the same, and ultimately, this “scrawny mixed-race kid” ends up nearly decapitated in the name of the cause, his life a sacrifice in the harsh reality of battle. Ignored and then used, Billy, who refers to himself online as “unconnected, sick of where he was, looking for . . . well, looking” finds a home and a purpose, losing his life in his quest to fit into a group led by someone who looks at the participants, including this thirteen year old child, as expendable weapons in her fight. Does he make friends? Does he feel accepted? Absolutely. He is mourned and missed by his partners, but this, of course, doesn’t compensate for a young life lost. Without parents who care for him, he makes choices that lead to his death, choices no thirteen year old should be expected to make. Throwing one’s self into the line of fire for any reason is clearly a decision meant for an adult mind, but Billy chooses the purpose and excitement this real-life game offers, along with the companionship of others who are misfits for a variety of reasons, brought together for a cause that is greater than their leader’s – acceptance.

The teen characters in these three science fiction thrillers may be sad mirrors of the ugly truth that foster care is a broken system, but their stories also offer hope in the form of teen and adult allies who help the teens take control of their lives and insist on respect from their peers and adults, as well as assert their right to personal dignity, regardless of the outcome. For readers in custodial situations, the concept is empowering; for readers fortunate enough to appreciate a family of their own, these characters shed light on the emotional lives of peers who otherwise may go unnoticed. Empathy for fictional characters may lead to connections to real children in need of a friend who is open to understanding, an advocate who will not judge them or their situation, a teen like themselves who will accept them as an individual regardless of their home (or lack thereof) situation. Sometimes it just takes one person to reach out and make a difference in someone’s life, and I am hopeful that with the influence of young adult fiction that honestly represents the emotional difficulties and vulnerabilities of orphaned and foster children, the young adult reader of even the most unrealistic of fiction may be the someone who makes that difference.

Meet Our Guest Blogger, Kerry Sutherland

I am the teen librarian at the Ellet Branch of the Akron-Summit County Public Library in Akron, Ohio, and have a PhD in American literature from Kent State University, along with a MLIS from the same. I am a book reviewer for School Library Journal and RT Book Reviews magazine, as well as a published author of fiction, poetry, professional and academic work. I love cats, Henry James, NASCAR, and anime. I read everything, because you only live once.

About the Books

Publisher’s Description for TABULA RASA

The Bourne Identity meets Divergent in this heart-pounding debut.

Sixteen-year-old Sarah has a rare chance at a new life. Or so the doctors tell her. She’s been undergoing a cutting-edge procedure that will render her a tabula rasa—a blank slate. Memory by memory her troubled past is being taken away.

But when her final surgery is interrupted and a team of elite soldiers invades the isolated hospital under cover of a massive blizzard, her fresh start could be her end.

Navigating familiar halls that have become a dangerous maze with the help of a teen computer hacker who’s trying to bring the hospital down for his own reasons, Sarah starts to piece together who she is and why someone would want her erased. And she won’t be silenced again.

A high-stakes thriller featuring a non-stop race for survival and a smart heroine who will risk everything, Tabula Rasa is, in short, unforgettable. (Egmont)

Publisher’s Description for THE VAULT OF DREAMERS:

From the author of the Birthmarked trilogy comes a fast-paced, psychologically thrilling novel about what happens when your dreams are not your own.

The Forge School is the most prestigious arts school in the country. The secret to its success:  every moment of the students’ lives is televised as part of the insanely popular Forge Show, and the students’ schedule includes twelve hours of induced sleep meant to enhance creativity. But when first year student Rosie Sinclair skips her sleeping pill, she discovers there is something off about Forge. In fact, she suspects that there are sinister things going on deep below the reaches of the cameras in the school. What’s worse is, she starts to notice that the edges of her consciousness do not feel quite right. And soon, she unearths the ghastly secret that the Forge School is hiding—and what it truly means to dream there. (Roaring Brook Press)

Publisher’s Description for BZRK:

Love The Hunger Games?  Action-adventure thrillers with a dystopian twist? BZRK (Berserk) by Michael Grant, New York Times best-selling author of the GONE series, ramps up the action and suspense to a whole new level of excitement.

Set in the near future, BZRK is the story of a war for control of the human mind.  Charles and Benjamin Armstrong, conjoined twins and owners of the Armstrong Fancy Gifts Corporation, have a goal:  to turn the world into their vision of utopia.  No wars, no conflict, no hunger.  And no free will.  Opposing them is a guerrilla group of teens, code name BZRK, who are fighting to protect the right to be messed up, to be human.  This is no ordinary war, though.  Weapons are deployed on the nano-level. The battleground is the human brain.  And there are no stalemates here:  It’s victory . . . or madness.

BZRK unfolds with hurricane force around core themes of conspiracy and mystery, insanity and changing realities, engagement and empowerment, and the larger impact of personal choice. Which side would you choose?  How far would you go to win? (Egmont)