Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Writing Whiteness, a guest post by Kate Hattemer

In a racial justice training I did at the school where I teach, the facilitator asked us to cast our minds back to our early understandings of race. It made me think. I’m a white woman, and despite attending an elementary school that was majority Black, I grew up barely cognizant of my whiteness. I remember being reprimanded for announcing, “I’m not wearing no coat” — that was not how we spoke — and I remember noticing that my honors classes in high school were almost all white, counter to the demographics of the school. That’s about it.

Small Kate in soccer uniform; photo credit Charlie Hattemer

Yet from an early age, I was aware I was a girl and I would be treated differently because I was a girl. I remember a kindergarten classmate shoving me up against a door to kiss me. I remember noticing that the lists of presidents and astronauts and scientists in my children’s encyclopedia were all men. In high school, when I fell deep into the world of competitive trivia games, I remember my teachers and coaches casually posing theories as to why girls weren’t fast on the buzzer. (I was fast on the buzzer.)

I have a lot of childhood memories of being oppressed. I don’t remember so well the experience of being on top.

This is common, I think, and understandable. In a weird way, it can be a whole lot more comfortable to examine ways you’ve been hurt by oppressive systems than to reckon with the ways you’ve been complicit, and perhaps still are complicit, with systems that hurt others. My whiteness informed every day of my childhood — the way I was treated by teachers and shopkeepers and passersby, the places we lived, the jobs my parents had, and on, and on, and on, in many ways I’m sure I don’t know — yet I barely knew I was white. I was just, you know. The default. Not black, not brown. I knew I was Swiss. Did that count?

Unsurprisingly, this discomfort is mirrored in children’s literature. In the past few years, as white authors have felt the need (from both the industry and our own consciences) to diversify our books, I’ve seen — and, yes, I’ve written — a familiar pattern. There’s a white protagonist (WP) who has at least one friend of color (FOC). Maybe WP visits the FOC’s house and eats some authentic kimchi or tacos, or maybe WP notes that FOC has a different hair-care routine. Or maybe WP witnesses a microaggression visited upon the FOC; the WP doesn’t understand at first, but the FOC explains, and the WP comes to a greater understanding of what it’s like for the FOC to move through the world.

I’m not saying this is a problem. It’s certainly better than all-white casts, and it’s better than the colorblind casts of math textbooks, where Latosha has to calculate the chances that the six marbles Xiyuan drew from José’s bag would all be green. But I worry it’s skipping a step. It’s eliding over the fact that white characters, too, have a race. When race is only an issue for our characters of color, the story reinforces the idea that race is not a problem for white people. Yes, white characters should see the way their friends of color deal with race, but they too need to reflect upon and reckon with their whiteness, by the way that their worldview has been unknowingly shaped by their powerful position in the structures of white supremacy.

Poster at protest; credit/caption “Our Feminism Must Be Intersectional Rally/March Pittsburgh” by feral godmother is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

Jemima Kincaid, the white, straight, and wealthy protagonist of my new novel, is a committed feminist. She believes in justice and equity. She deeply wants to change the problematic traditions and toxic masculinity that drive the culture of her private school. But Jemima has huge blind spots. Throughout the book, she works to scrape off that cruddy crust of white feminism and internalized misogyny, but it’s there, and it’s sticky. She learns some things. She remains totally clueless about others. She is eighteen years old.

I’ve learned some things too, and I know I remain totally clueless about others. So I’ll keep reading and listening. I’ll keep thinking about how my whiteness shapes my experience of the world, and I’ll keep thinking about my white characters. Do they grow? Do they learn? Do they change? I don’t believe they have to. Literature doesn’t need a moral. But I do believe that literature should be considered, every aspect of it. If we’re going to keep writing white protagonists, we need white protagonists to reckon with race — not as something they aren’t, but as something they are.

Meet Kate Hattemer

Photo credit: Emma Hattemer

Kate Hattemer is a native of Cincinnati, but now writes, reads, runs, and teaches high school in the DC metro area. She is the author of The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy, which received five starred reviews, The Land of 10,000 Madonnas, and Here Comes Trouble. Find her online at her website, www.katehattemer.com/, on Instagram @katehattemer, or on Twitter @katehattemer.

About THE FEMINIST AGENDA OF JEMIMA KINCAID

A novel about friendship, feminism, and the knotty complications of tradition and privilege, perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli and Stephanie Perkins.

Jemima Kincaid is a feminist, and she thinks you should be one, too. Her private school is laden with problematic traditions, but the worst of all is prom. The guys have all the agency; the girls have to wait around for “promposals” (she’s speaking heteronormatively because only the hetero kids even go). In Jemima’s (very opinionated) opinion, it’s positively medieval.

Then Jemima is named to Senior Triumvirate, alongside superstar athlete Andy and popular, manicured Gennifer, and the three must organize prom. Inspired by her feminist ideals and her desire to make a mark on the school, Jemima proposes a new structure. They’ll do a Last Chance Dance: every student privately submits a list of crushes to a website that pairs them with any mutual matches.

Meanwhile, Jemima finds herself embroiled in a secret romance that she craves and hates all at once. Her best friend, Jiyoon, has found romance of her own, but Jemima starts to suspect something else has caused the sudden rift between them. And is the new prom system really enough to extinguish the school’s raging dumpster fire of toxic masculinity?

Filled with Kate Hattemer’s signature banter, this is a fast-paced and thoughtful tale about the nostalgia of senior year, the muddle of modern relationships, and how to fight the patriarchy when you just might be part of the patriarchy yourself.

ISBN-13: 9781984849120
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 02/18/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Homeless: Seeing Past the Label to the Person, a guest post by Catherine Linka

A few months ago, I was upset when a writer friend was interviewed on local TV news about her picture book, and the banner across the screen read “Homeless Woman Writes Children’s Book.” 

My friend wrote from her experience as a teen living in a shelter, but in the ten years since she acquired a master’s from a major university, a significant position with a non-profit, a nice apartment and a long-term romantic relationship. I realize that headlines are designed to telegraph what’s newsworthy about a story, but by labeling her a “homeless woman” the editor negated what is true about her and her life now.

I thought a lot about labels while working on my new YA novel, because a central theme of What I Want You to See is perception, meaning how we want others to see us and how our assumptions and emotions blind us to seeing people and situations clearly. 

My protagonist, Sabine Reyes is a first year at an art institute in Los Angeles. The recipient of a prestigious scholarship that affords her a cozy rented room, Sabine is careful not to let anyone know she spent the spring and summer living in her car. Sabine’s certain that if she does, she’ll be labeled “that homeless girl” instead of being seen as a highly talented artist with an unlimited future.

Labels like “homeless” reduce a person to a stereotype and weigh them down with assumptions that don’t allow for their individuality and run counter to their self-identity.

Kara Yorio addressed this last year in her School Library Journal feature  “In Plain Sight, Supporting Teens Who Are Homeless.” She noted that educators often assume that teens experiencing homelessness are damaged, traumatized, or emotionally unstable, but the teens they’re trying to help want to seen and treated as normal kids in challenging situations. 

It’s not surprising that educators might assume the worse, since the population of people experiencing homelessness who are most visible in our communities and the media are those living on the street and struggling with mental or physical illness, drug, or alcohol addiction.

But in California, a lack of affordable housing has pushed tens of thousands of two-earner families and retirees out of their homes, and prevents college students and part-time workers from finding places to rent. Like my protagonist, many of these individuals and families hide their homelessness as they go to work or attend classes, embarrassed by what people might think about them and their families.

Even though their circumstances are unstable, we shouldn’t assume that a teen or family is unstable. When my friend lost her home, her dad provided the strength and love she needed to feel safe. One line from my book which she felt expressed this well is: “People think home is where you live, but it’s not. It’s where you’re loved.” 

As the affordable housing crisis continues, we need to reconsider how we think and speak about students and families who lack permanent housing. Many of these families will find stable housing and their homelessness will be temporary. If we label them as “homeless” we focus on one period in their lives, possibly the worst, and we fail to allow for how teens, young adults, and people of all ages may continue to grow and change. 

Maybe we can begin by retiring “homeless” as an adjective to describe someone. Homeless isn’t who a person is. It’s not an identity, it’s a circumstance. Since I began writing this novel, I’ve made a conscious effort to change how I speak and to replace phrases like ‘homeless students’ with ones that reflect these students’ circumstances better such as ‘students experiencing homelessness.’ 

My friend would add that we should reconsider using “the” before “homeless.” Even when we mean well, such as when we implore others to “Help Feed the Homeless,” we lump people together in a group, erasing their individual identity. Perhaps, we could try dropping “homeless” as a noun altogether.

People, young people especially, want to be seen the way they identify. If we look beyond the label to the individual, engage them by asking about their interests, hobbies, friends, and dreams, we can show them that we see them as a whole person. We can chip away at the stigma of homelessness one person at a time.

Meet Catherine Linka

Photo credit: Nicola Borland Photography

Catherine Linka has been immersed in books her whole life, most recently as a writer and bookseller. She’s the author of the young adult novel WHAT I WANT YOU TO SEE as well as the dystopian duology A GIRL CALLED FEARLESS and A GIRL UNDONE. Catherine lives in Southern California and watches hawks and hummingbirds when she should be writing. 

Website: www.catherinelinka.com

Facebook: @catherinelinkaauthor

Twitter: @cblinka

Instagram: catherine_linka

About What I Want You to See by Catherine Linka

Winning a scholarship to California’s most prestigious art school seems like a fairy tale ending to Sabine Reye’s awful senior year. After losing both her mother and her home, Sabine longs for a place where she belongs.

But the cutthroat world of visual arts is nothing like what Sabine had imagined. Colin Krell, the renowned faculty member whom she had hoped would mentor her, seems to take merciless delight in tearing down her best work-and warns her that she’ll lose the merit-based award if she doesn’t improve.

Desperate and humiliated, Sabine doesn’t know where to turn. Then she meets Adam, a grad student who understands better than anyone the pressures of art school. He even helps Sabine get insight on Krell by showing her the modern master’s work in progress, a portrait that’s sold for a million dollars sight unseen.

Sabine is enthralled by the portrait; within those swirling, colorful layers of paint is the key to winning her inscrutable teacher’s approval. Krell did advise her to improve her craft by copying a painting she connects with . . . but what would he think of Sabine secretly painting her own version of his masterpiece? And what should she do when she accidentally becomes party to a crime so well -plotted that no one knows about it but her?

Complex and utterly original, What I Want You to See is a gripping tale of deception, attraction, and moral ambiguity.

ISBN-13: 9781368027557
Publisher: Freeform
Publication date: 02/04/2020

The Building Blocks to Change, a guest post by Nancy Richardson Fischer

Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones whose parents told them that they could do anything, be anything, and accomplish anything. Perhaps, when you were a kid, you were picked first for every team in gym class, never went through an awkward stage, and sailed through high school, college, got your dream job, dream guy or gal or dog, and created a rose-colored universe, all without any hurdles or roadblocks. But I’m guessing that didn’t happen… because even if life seems easy for someone on the exterior, inside there are always challenges. And it’s those challenges, when shared that help shape self-perception and the views other people have of us.

I recall a gal in high school named Beth who was a cheerleader, great student, and very popular. I thought she had the world by the tail. But she was living with an alcoholic mother who was verbally and sometimes physically abusive. One night, I went to dinner at Beth’s house and her mom was so drunk she slurred, fell down, and made us a moldy frozen pizza for dinner, insisting we finish every bite. After that I saw Beth in a different light. She’d let me into her world and I realized she was thriving despite enormous challenges. She was a survivor.

Nancy in high school.

Here’s a different kind of example. Bill was in my freshman high school class and had epilepsy. Everyone knew and most of the kids didn’t tease him, but they did avoid a friendship. One day we were summoned into a general assembly and that boy stood on stage in front of 400 students and did a presentation about epilepsy, how it had affected his life, his fears, hopes, and what we could all do to help him. It was so incredibly brave. More than that, he opened a window to his interior world, allowed us to understand and sympathize… and that opened the door to friendships. After that day, Bill was a warrior to us and we did everything possible to help him navigate his condition.

People only care deeply about people they know. And part of being known is sharing experiences, successes, failures and fears. By sharing and allowing others to truly understand you, and to mirror what they see, versus what you believe, self-perception can also change for the better. 

Nancy and a very good dog.

This idea is what led me to write The Speed of Falling Objects, my new young adult novel (HarperCollins/Inkyard Press Oct. 1, 2019). The story revolves around a timid young woman named Danny who believes she’s defective, inferior and an embarrassment because of an accident when she was seven, and her parents’ subsequent divorce. When her estranged father, a famous TV survivalist, invites Danny to join him and his guest, a teen movie idol, for an episode of his show being filmed in the Amazon Rainforest, she jumps at the chance to renew their relationship. But their small plane crashes in the Amazon and all three must face deadly perils, dark secrets and discover hidden strengths to survive and find their way home. Danny’s perceptions of who she is and who she wants to become changes dramatically as she shares her fears, sees herself in others’ eyes, and embraces her unique abilities.

Authors write what they know. I have always believed that I’m inferior and defective. I’m not looking for sympathy! My path was winding and filled with obstacles, but today I have a great husband, dream job writing books and a life that exceeded my expectations. I just want to share that the things we believe, or were told about ourselves early in life may not be true, but we still carry them somewhere inside. And it’s the heavy baggage we can’t actually see that will, in reality, lead us to sink or swim unless we’re willing to unload it.

Here’s my story in a nutshell.  From a young age I was told I could accomplish some things, be some things, but not everything. My parents weren’t cruel, they were just a product of their own parents, came from small towns, and didn’t believe the entire world was there for the taking… just a little slice. So the message, for me, was that there were things beyond my grasp, impossible things. I took that to mean that I was inferior—incapable of achieving all my dreams. In addition, I’ve had some health issues over the years. My back is tricky… meaning I’ve had ruptured discs and a few surgeries. That led me to believe my body was defective.

Nancy catching air while kitesurfing.

So how did I become someone who lives to ski, kitesurf, and cycle? How did I become an author? How did I find the courage to put myself out there and write novels? Part of the reason is that I’m stubborn. I truly believe I’m defective and inferior to this day! But I refused to miss out on the life I want to live. So I shared my story, my fears, my dreams, with friends I trusted. And what I saw reflected in their eyes was someone who was braver and tougher than she believed… and had some writing talent. I took those building blocks and created a ladder that allowed me to climb past my perceptions and insecurities.

Nancy riding Mt. Ventoux.

It’s HARD to share your doubts, to open yourself up to people who might not always be kind. But no situation is a failure if you’re being authentic. By doing so you discover strengths you never knew you had, and also come to realize that your own struggles and story can actually help other people overcome their hurdles in life.

Here’s the takeaway: Don’t allow negative self-perceptions and vulnerabilities to prevent you from opening a door or window into your life.  One day you will realize that your early beliefs are just steps on a road that must be climbed in order to achieve your dreams. 

Meet Nancy Richardson Fischer

Photo credit: Kelley Dulcich

Nancy Richardson Fischer is the author of When Elephants Fly and The Speed of Falling Objects ((HarperCollins/Inkyard Press Oct. 1, 2019). She has authored multiple sport autobiographies and Star Wars books for LucasFilm.

Visit her website at www.nancyrichardsonfischer.com

Twitter: @nfischerauthor

Facebook: @nanfischerauthor

Instagram: @nanfischerauthor

Bookbub: @nancyrfischer

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/98412.Nancy_Richardson_Fischer

About The Speed of Falling Objects

From the author of When Elephants Fly comes an exceptional new novel about falling down, risking everything and embracing what makes us unique. Don’t miss this compulsively readable novel about the most unlikely of heroes.

Danger “Danny” Danielle Warren is no stranger to falling. After losing an eye in a childhood accident, she had to relearn her perception of movement and space. Now Danny keeps her head down, studies hard, and works to fulfill everyone else’s needs. She’s certain that her mom’s bitterness and her TV star father’s absence are her fault. If only she were more—more athletic, charismatic, attractive—life would be perfect.

When her dad calls with an offer to join him to film the next episode of his popular survivalist show, Danny jumps at the chance to prove she’s not the disappointment he left behind. Being on set with the hottest teen movie idol of the moment, Gus Price, should be the cherry on top. But when their small plane crashes in the Amazon, and a terrible secret is revealed, Danny must face the truth about the parent she worships and falling for Gus, and find her own inner strength and worth to light the way home.

ISBN-13: 9781335928245
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Publication date: 10/01/2019

Out and Proud (On the Page and In Real Life): My Long and Not-Straight Journey to Self-Acceptance, a guest post by Amber Smith

Confession: When I was in eighth grade, I stole my public library’s copy of Nancy Garden’s Annie on My Mind because I was too afraid to check it out. I kept it hidden under my bed for years, its pages well-worn from reading it so many times.

I remember coming of age in the 90s and feeling very disconnected from a lot of the progress I saw happening on TV and in the media where queer people were out and proud and beginning to be more accepted, because in my little corner of the world, I didn’t know any gay people. My only references were conflicted at best, and harmful at worst.

I’m not entirely sure why these are the things that are branded in my memory as vivid as if they happened yesterday, but these are some of the earliest times I became aware that there were people who thought there was something deeply wrong and shameful about the existence of gay people:

1. Watching Melrose Place in 1994, and the shock and disgust and horror that erupted out of a potential/suggested kiss between two men that aired on the show.  

2. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Being in a military family, I was very aware of the controversy surrounding this, and it absolutely boggled my mind. There were clearly plenty of people who thought LGBTQ people were not fit to serve in the military, and I couldn’t make sense of what one had to do with the other (because it made zero sense).

3. The token lesbian character on the show Friends: Ross’s ex-wife who had left him for another woman. Whenever she was mentioned, it was always accompanied with a roaring laugh track.

4. And then when Ellen’s sitcom was canceled after she came out on the show.

What I was learning slowly, one small instance at a time, was that visibility and being “out” (whatever the hell that meant; at the time I wasn’t sure) always came at a price.

When I looked around at my life, this is what I saw: There was not a single out student at my entire high school; though we were (of course) present. The gym teachers were rumored to be “dykes” and were either laughed at behind their backs or treated like predators to their faces. There were not LGBTQ-Straight Alliances back then; in fact, “LGBTQ” wasn’t even a thing yet. The word “queer” was still an insult, and it was not a word I wanted to be associated with in any way.

Still, I relished the rare book, movie, or TV show that featured any gay characters, which were few and far between. In high school I would discreetly stalk the video store, searching for movies that had any kind of gayness in them, and I would try to act casual as I brought my stack of VHS tapes to the checkout counter, watching the faces of the cashiers closely for signs of judgment or disapproval. (To this day, I don’t know if I imagined them or if they were real). I’d watch the movies in the middle of the night when no one in my house was awake, literally playing them on mute and reading the subtitles, desperate to find a connection to this world (which I both suspected and feared I was a part of) that was positive. Finding Annie on My Mind was life-changing because it was the first time I had found a story where there was love and hope and acceptance, with characters that felt real and whole, flawed and complex. I needed this book like I needed oxygen.

By the time I got to college, I was ready for some freedom. I found my first girlfriend and felt like I was alive for the first time in my life. I may have been emboldened by being able to be out around my fellow art students, but what I soon learned was that life in the real world was very different from strolling around campus holding hands with my girlfriend. It only took a few verbal attacks and threats of physical violence to put a quick end to PDAs altogether. It’s a very disorientating and confusing feeling to know with every fiber of your mind and heart and soul that you are living your life the way you need to be living it, and at the same time, to be deeply terrified of the consequences for doing so.

Amber in college, circa 2000

Each of these moments left marks and scars, both big and small, some more fully healed than others.

After the breakup with my first serious girlfriend, I went so far back into the closet I practically disowned my entire life. I gave away all my cherished Ani DiFranco and Melissa Etheridge CDs, my collection of VHS tapes, all of my gender studies textbooks, and even my stolen copy of Annie on My Mind. Trying to be in a committed relationship while being in the closet made my world feel microscopically small. This life was too hard, I decided; I would just stay single for the rest of my life and that way I’d never have to be fully out. I wouldn’t have to be subjected to hate or violence ever again. This whole gay thing would be a non-issue, right?

Wrong.

I was so deeply unhappy and unhealthy during that time. I was committing hate and violence against myself now. I felt like I was between two worlds and that I didn’t belong to either of them. With my family, I felt like I was living a lie. Alternately, since I was in the closet, I felt like I wasn’t “gay enough” to be a part of that community either. It would take me years to find my way back out into the light. I ultimately had to seek therapy and gradually work through a lot of that internalized homophobia I had lurking around in the cobwebs of my mind. I had to learn how to love and accept myself for who I was, to discover on my own terms that I didn’t have to try to cram myself into anyone else’s ideas about who I should be. And it would still be years before I could finally come out to my family.

Amber at her student art show, 2004

When my second book, The Last to Let Go was published, and featured a lesbian protagonist, I had a whole new and public coming out experience. While this one was very positive, it still brought up a lot of these old wounds and memories of what it was like to come of age in a time and place where there was such uncertainty of whether or not I would be accepted and loved, or even safe. That’s when I started thinking about the book that would become Something Like Gravity.

Writing is always therapeutic for me, and I found that I really needed a place to work through not only my own experiences, but also a place to address the recent backlash against the LGBTQ community and a lot of the transphobia ramping up over the last several years (because whenever there is progress, there is going to be backlash). But the thing that inspired me to turn Something Like Gravity into a love story is that my soul really needed to write about something that was equally as powerful as all of the difficult, painful experiences. In this case, that something became a story about falling in love, finding hope, and living your truth, against all odds.

I lived in fear and anger for a long time, and while I’m thankful that things are slowly changing and some of us in the LGBTQ community are beginning to find more equality, there are still so many fights to be won. In many respects I see history repeating itself in the plight of queer youth today—particularly individuals who identify as trans or nonbinary—and it makes my heart ache.

There is nothing I know of that opens minds and hearts better than sharing our stories, and I wrote Something Like Gravity in the hope that it can help in some small way to give young people who may be feeling some of what I felt at their age a space to be seen and validated and safe. And ultimately, it is my hope that readers will be able to find aspects of themselves in these characters; even if they aren’t transgender or queer. We are all perfectly imperfect, each of us a work in progress, and the one thing that connects us is love. I believe that love is powerful, transformative, and it is what gives us hope—something no one should ever be without.

Although I took a constantly twisting road to get here, I can say that today I am out, happy, loved, and incredibly proud of the life I’ve created.

P.S. I should add that I have since donated, with apologies and thanks, a new copy of Annie on My Mind to the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library.

Meet Amber Smith

Photo credit: Deborah Triplett

Amber Smith is the New York Times bestselling author of the young adult novels The Way I Used to BeThe Last to Let Go, and Something Like Gravity. An advocate for increased awareness of gendered violence, as well as LGBTQ equality, she writes in the hope that her books can help to foster change and spark dialogue surrounding these issues. She grew up in Buffalo, New York, and now lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her partner and their ever-growing family of rescued dogs and cats. Pronouns: she/her/hers.

Website: www.ambersmithauthor.com 

Twitter: @ASmithAuthor 

Instagram: @ambersmithauthor

Facebook: @AmberSmithAuthor

About SOMETHING LIKE GRAVITY

For fans of Love, Simon and Eleanor & Park, a romantic and sweet novel about a transgender boy who falls in love for the first time—and how first love changes us all—from New York Times bestselling author Amber Smith.

Chris and Maia aren’t off to a great start.

A near-fatal car accident first brings them together, and their next encounters don’t fare much better. Chris’s good intentions backfire. Maia’s temper gets the best of her.

But they’re neighbors, at least for the summer, and despite their best efforts, they just can’t seem to stay away from each other.

The path forward isn’t easy. Chris has come out as transgender, but he’s still processing a frightening assault he survived the year before. Maia is grieving the loss of her older sister and trying to find her place in the world without her. Falling in love was the last thing on either of their minds.

But would it be so bad if it happened anyway?

ISBN-13: 9781534437180
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication date: 06/18/2019

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

Shocking the System with Damsels, Dragons, and Dashing Princes

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

can we all

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

nevertheless

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

our stories

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

how i resist

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

teen vogue2

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

 Kidkit women

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Meet Marie Marquardt

Women’s March, January 21, 2017

Women’s March, January 21, 2017

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

 

 

 

1100 words, a guest post by Claire Rudolf Murphy

bobby on truck bed April 4thOn the evening of April 4, 1968 Senator Robert Kennedy stood on the back of a truck, in a black neighborhood in Indianapolis, Indiana. But instead of telling people why they should vote for him for president, he had to announce that Martin Luther King, Jr. had been killed in Memphis, Tennessee.

 

Riots had already begun to erupt in cities across the country, but the crowd in Indianapolis stood silent in grief. Bobby told them that he didn’t blame them for feeling angry. Instead he said that they had a choice about “what kind of a nation we want to be . . . and what direction we want to move in.”

 

martin and bobby newBobby’s profound speech that night and one that prompted me to research and write my 18th book – Martin and Bobby: A Journey Towards Justice. Today is its publication birthday. Even though I was seventeen in 1968 and had a front-row seat to one of the most divisive and important decades in America’s history, I didn’t learn about Bobby’s April 4th speech until years later.

 

This book is the most personal of all my nonfiction titles because I knew about many of the events and people featured in the book. My parents were Kennedy Democrats and we often discussed politics around the dinner table in Spokane, Washington. We supported JFK for president and grieved with the nation when he was killed.

 

When Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, a nun at my high school, Holy Names Academy, posted this message on the classroom bulletin board: Christ the King, King the Christ. Some of the students said it was sacrilegious to compare King to Jesus. But I thought it was brave and was grateful that Sister Margaret helped me think about Dr. King in such a radical way. Martin Luther King cared about the poor and disenfranchised, just like Jesus did in the gospel stories I’d grown up with.

 

My family closely followed the 1968 presidential election too. My brother John supported Eugene McCarthy because he spoke out first against the Vietnam War. I remember that my parents were shocked when Johnson withdrew from the race. Right after midnight on June 5, 1968, my mother shook me awake. “Get up, Claire. History is being made.” Together we watched the chaos at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles; the sobbing supporters had just learned that their candidate Bobby Kennedy had been gunned down in the hotel kitchen with Ethel by his side.

 

That fall my friends and I listened over and over to the poignant song “Abraham, Martin and John,” with its last stanza featuring Bobby. It gave me solace and still does today.

 

During the following decades I majored in history in college, got married, had two children, taught writing and drama, and then began writing books for kids and teens, most often about different aspects of American history. In 2012 my husband, mother and I watched the documentary A Ripple of Hope about Robert Kennedy. We sat mesmerized during his speech on the night of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. None us had ever heard it before. Awed by the beauty of his words that touched the crowd so deeply, I had to learn more. I had to understand how Kennedy had such courage on a night when he took could have been killed. Why he was able to give such a powerful, healing speech on one of the worst days in America’s history.

 

Thousands of books, articles, blog posts, and documentaries feature King and Bobby Kennedy. Even though I’d grown up with King and Kennedy, there was so much to learn and people to interview. In 2016 I attended the 48th commemoration of Dr. King’s death and Bobby’s speech at the Landmark for Peace memorial in Indianapolis. I am grateful to the many people who shared their vivid memories from that April night in 1968. Many of them appear in the book, especially those who were teenagers that night.

 

During the 1960s civil rights protests, young people led the way and refused to give up. Teen protestors offer me hope now, fifty years later, as they lead us in Black Lives Matter, the Me Too movement, and school safety.

 

“A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on,” President John F. Kennedy said in a 1963 speech before his assassination. Martin’s and Bobby’s ideas—to end poverty, stop an unjust war, show compassion to all Americans— are still important today. And their words continue to offer inspiration and insight on how our country can heal and face the historic challenges of economic and racial inequality with compassion and activism.

 

john lewis and Claire 2014Like King and Kennedy, young leaders now demand that we take action, not stand on the sidelines. Because of that, during my book presentations this fall, a panel of middle school, high school and college leaders will discuss leadership today and what lessons from 1968 resonate with them.

 

Civil rights activist John Lewis had just joined Bobby Kennedy’s presidential campaign the night Dr. King was killed. He stood in the crowd as Bobby spoke. His mentor’s Dr. King meant everything to him. In November 2014 I had the honor of speaking with him in his Washington, DC office. We spent an hour together talking about that profound time and what both men still meant to him.

 

Congressman Lewis has often said, “Whenever I have very tough decisions to make, I always think, ‘What would Dr. King do? . . . What would Bobby Kennedy do?’”

 

He is heartened that students and people of all ages are protesting more than at any time since the 1960s.

 

I am grateful that my work on this project offered me the opportunity to deeply study that important time and what it meant to the nation. It allowed me to reflect on what it can teach us today about the need for compassion in our political dialogue and personal interactions.

 

Meet Claire Rudolf Murphy

Photo credit: Paul Gildea

Photo credit:
Paul Gildea

www.clairerudolfmurphy.com

Claire is the author of award-winning fiction and nonfiction books for children and young adults, including Marching With Aunt Susan: Susan B. Anthony and the Fight for Women’s Rights, My Country Tis of Thee: How One Song Reveals the History of Civil Rights, illustrated by Bryan Collier. Martin and Bobby: A Journey to Justice is her 18th book. She began her writing career in Alaska, where she lived for twenty-four years. Today she lives and writes in her hometown of Spokane, Washington. Since 2008 she has taught in Hamline University‘s low residency Writing for Children and Young Adults (MFAC) graduate program. Recent events have renewed her deep-seated passion for political activism. She enjoys music and outdoor activities with her husband, two grown children and their spouses, and grandson in Seattle.

 

 

About Martin and Bobby: A Journey to Justice

martin and bobby newMartin and Bobby follows the lives, words, and final days of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. Initially wary of one another, their relationship evolved from challenging and testing each other to finally “arriving in the same place” as allies fighting poverty and racism. The stories of King and Kennedy reveal how life experiences affect a leader’s ability to show empathy for all people and how great political figures don’t work in a vacuum but are influenced by events and people around them.

 

Martin’s courage showed Bobby how to act on one’s moral principles, and Bobby’s growing awareness of the country’s racial and economic divide gave Martin hope that the nation’s leaders could truly support justice. Fifty years later, their lives and words still stir people young and old and offer inspiration and insight on how our country can face the historic challenges of economic and racial inequality.

 

(ISBN-13: 9781641600101 Publisher: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated Publication date: 10/02/2018)

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

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

 

 

 

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

– Arundhati Roy

 

“How Can Men be Better Feminists?”

 

Brendan-Kiely-Book-Tradition

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Brendan's Recommended Books (1)

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Your reckoning. And mine.” (The Cut)

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

pic1

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

pic2

 

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

pic3

 

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

 

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

 

Nanette – a stand-up comedy act by Hannah Gadsby

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

TRADITION #RFCHead Back to School with #ReadForChange

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

 

 

 

 

 

Meet Marie Marquardt

Women’s March, January 21, 2017

Women’s March, January 21, 2017

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

 

Living on the Brink of Homelessness by Brenda Rufener, author of Where I Live

Where I Live (Final Cover)Growing up, my parents struggled financially, and for years we lived on the brink of homelessness. My parents couldn’t afford childcare, so on Saturdays my mother dropped my six-year-old brother and me off at the steps of our rural public library where the doors opened at 9:00 am, and we were greeted as patrons. At the time, I had no clue of my family’s struggles, and I felt like the luckiest kid on earth spending weekends in a quiet space filled with books.

 

The librarians never side-eyed my worn-out tennis shoes or my brother’s Kool-Aid stained face. They didn’t bat an eye at a parentless ten-year-old stretched out on a patchwork rug reading to her younger sibling. As long as we respected the rules, we were welcome until closing time. The library became our place of refuge.

 

A few years later, I’d become keenly aware of my parents’ financial struggles. Money became a heated topic. How we needed it but never had it. And when my father lost his job due to layoffs, the already shaky foundation of my home crumbled.

 

We shuffled back and forth between homes and couches belonging to relatives. Our days spent living with family members turned to weeks, and weeks to months. I remember friends wanting to come over and hang out, but no rested on the tip of my tongue, embarrassed of the fact that I had no bedroom of my own. “Let’s meet at the library,” I’d say.

 

My situation, although not as severe as many homeless teens, partly inspired my novel, Where I Live. When writing, I drew on personal experiences, emotions, and insecurities I had growing up while facing homelessness.

 

The statistics of homelessness are overwhelming and impersonal. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) 2016 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, on a single night in January, 549,928 people experienced homelessness in the United States. Over one-fifth of people experiencing homelessness were children, and nine percent were between the ages of 18 and 24. Unfortunately, this number continues to rise.

 

Public awareness has improved dramatically since I was a kid, but there is still work to be done. Today, housing insecurity, like my parents experienced during my childhood and teen years, is at an all time high. We’re seeing a large number of college students living in their vehicles because they can’t afford rent. This is especially true among community college students. We’re also seeing families forced out of their homes due to abrupt rent hikes. And an alarming number of LGBTQ+ teens being forced from their homes after coming out to their parents.

 

To compound problems, many homeless shelters are not equipped to take in teens, especially those who identify as girls. Homeless teens report that they don’t feel safe or comfortable in homeless shelters that cater to adults.

 

In college, I volunteered with a literacy program helping homeless young women. Struck by their tenacity and unwillingness to give up hope, I was drawn to their strength. How I wished teen-me had known these women. They were homeless, but never hopeless, and they helped show me how homelessness takes on many faces.

 

Homelessness is not always the weathered and grizzled man panhandling on the street corner. Yes–he exists and should be helped, but other faces exist, too. They are the student sitting next you in class. The friend living in her car with dreams similar to your own. They are ambitious young people who are much more than their crisis.

 

Today, I continue my volunteer efforts to raise money and collect supplies for teen homeless shelters. Spoiler: Shelters need tampons, deodorant, and women’s hygiene products, and they are some of the least donated items. This small act of service is a reminder to myself, and now to my own children, that homelessness has many faces and is not a one size fits all journey.

 

My novel, Where I Live, is a tribute to the resilient homeless youth I’ve encountered over the years, and to a library community that filled me with hope and possibility.

 

Credit: Carolyn Scott Photography

Credit: Carolyn Scott Photography

Meet Brenda Rufener

Brenda Rufener is a technical writer turned novelist who spent her childhood stomping through the woods of Oregon. A double major in English and biology, Brenda graduated from Whitman College, and now lives in North Carolina with her family. She is an advocate for homeless youth.

https://www.brendarufener.com/

And buy link:

https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062571090/where-i-live

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

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

 

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

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie—We Should all be Feminists

 

“For All the Teenage Women Fighting the Good Fight”

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

tumblr_oliiioltZ81vkq4glo1_540

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

“Rebel Girl” by Bikini Kill

“Freewheel” by Team Dresch

“Dream Number Nine” by Big Joanie

“Stuck Here Again” by L7

“Mujer Moderna” by Fea

“Gimme Brains” by Bratmobile

“Oh Bondage Up Yours” by X-RaySpex

 

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

She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Meet Marie Marquardt

Women’s March, January 21, 2017

Women’s March, January 21, 2017

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

Anger, inspiration, and the stories we tell, a guest post by Marieke Nijkamp

before iBefore I Let Go tells the story of two girls in the arctic heart of Alaska. Two girls who were best friends, who were discovering who they could be, who were each other’s center of gravity. It tells of  grief and ice, of mystery and mental illness.

And it was, at least in part, born out of anger.

Anger is good writing fuel for me. Anger and questions. It’s where most of my story ideas start. Of course, for an idea to grow into a book, it needs far more than just a spark. It needs characters to carry it, a plot to move it forward, and beautiful Alaskan settings. Oh, how I love playing with winter.

But it started with a spark of anger.

The source of that anger? Inspiration porn. A specific instance… or ten or twenty.

If you don’t know what inspiration porn is, the late, great Stella Young defined it as such in her absolute spectacular Ted talk I’m not your inspiration, thank you very much: the act of objectifying disabled people for the benefit of nondisabled people.

It’s posters of disabled athletes with the slogan “The only disability is a bad attitude.” It’s describing disabled people as courageous simply for living. It’s quite literally describing us as inspirational.

I don’t know anyone with a disability—especially those of us who use assistive devices or are visibly disabled—who hasn’t at some point in their life had strangers come up to them to tell them how brave they are. I don’t know anyone with a disability who hasn’t at some point in their life had strangers come up to them to say, “I can’t imagine living like that, but you’re really inspiring to me.” Or, “I wasn’t feeling well today, but then I thought of you and how much worse you have it, and I pushed through.”

It happens countless times.

At the core of it is this strange idea that living with disability is either so remarkable or so terrible that the sheer act of existing is to be applauded. (And that we only exist for the benefit of nondisabled people.)

Now, on the surface, inspiration porn may seem relatively benign. Sure, it’s objectifying, but inspiration is a good thing, isn’t it?

Let’s set aside that objectifying and othering means not valuing us, means denying us accessibility, means hindering our quest toward equality.

Sometimes, it goes beyond even that. When there’s a very specific variation to the theme: when a disabled person’s death exists to inspire nondisabled people in life.

This particular version is often used specifically in the context of (romanticizing) mental illness and suicidal ideation, though there are also ample examples of it being used in broader disability representation.

And honestly, I’ve seen one too many portrayals of dead disabled characters whose death is turned into a teachable moment instead of a tragedy. Or, a flawed reminder to “make the most” out of life. And it always keeps the focus on nondisabled people.

That’s what sparked Before I Let Go. I wanted to write a book that examined and would be conversation with inspiration porn. Sure, it’s a murder mystery too. And a story of friendship and responsibility and how even the best intentions can be harmful. But Kyra’s death at the start of the book is unequivocally a tragedy.

She deserved so much more. And that’s where we start.

 

Meet Marieke Nijkamp

Credit: Karin Nijkamp

Credit: Karin Nijkamp

Marieke Nijkamp was born and raised in the Netherlands. A lifelong student of stories, language, and ideas, she spends as much time in fictional worlds as she does the real world. She loves to travel, roll dice, and daydream.

Marieke’s debut young adult novel, This Is Where It Ends, follows four teens during the fifty-four minutes of a school shooting. Her sophomore novel, Before I Let Goa haunting young adult murder mystery set during a cruel Alaskan winter, is out now.

For more information about Marieke, visit Twitter, TumblrInstagram, and her website.