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


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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Then November 2016 happened.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



Meet Bree Barton

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

#ReadForChange: American Dreams and Nightmares in Ibi Zoboi’s American Street, 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 writes about Ibi Zoboi’s powerful novel, American Street 



“I want to look happily forward. I want to be optimistic. I want to have a dream. I want to live in jubilee. I want my daughters to feel that they have the power to at least try to change things, even in a world that resists change with more strength than they have. I want to tell them they can overcome everything, if they are courageous, resilient and brave. Paradoxically, I also want to tell them their crowns have already been bought and paid for and that all they have to do is put them on their heads. But the world keeps tripping me up. My certainty keeps flailing.”


  • Edwidge Danticat, The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race


“If only I could break the glass separating me and Manman with my thoughts alone.”


am streetThis is the first line of American Street, the gorgeous, spirit-filled story of Fabiola Toussaint, a U.S. born teen who has spent almost her entire life in her family’s homeland of Port-au-Prince Haiti. After being separated from her Manman [mother] when they arrive at Kennedy airport, Fabiola travels alone to live with her cousins on the west side of Detroit, where she must learn to navigate an entirely new world that’s not at all what she expected.


Fabiola’s story unfolds in and around her aunt’s house “on the corner of American and Joy.” Her experience of trying to fit into the neighborhood and school offers an open, honest examination of segmented assimilation, institutional racism, poverty, violence, and the effects of white supremacy. Her story also reminds readers of the trauma experienced when children and teens are separated from their parents by detention, and the helplessness so many feel in the face of the immigration detention system.


But the story offers so very much more: Fabiola, striving to fit in while also struggling to reunite with her detained mother, is my favorite sort of teen protagonist: the one that readers root hard for, even when she makes decisions that we know won’t take her where she hopes to go. Zoboi also brings readers inside the perspective of those who surround Fabiola. Her cousins, her aunt, her boyfriend, her neighbors, and even the street where she lives each have space, in this novel, to share their own story, from their own perspective. By telling the story from multiple points of view, Ibi Zoboi stridently resists the urge to stereotype the residents of Fabiola’s new neighborhood.


“I am Brave” SocialWhim.

“I am Brave” SocialWhim.

Zoboi writes beautiful prose that interweaves Haitian religion’s vibrant spirit world. Fabiola is a Vodou practitioner, and this runs through the novel, with the Iwa [Vodou gods or spirits] playing central roles as enigmatic characters. Engaging the rich traditions of Vodou, Ibi Zoboi actively resists distortions of the religious traditions of Haiti, which also have become an important part of the American religious landscape.


Reflecting on the experience of reading Fabiola’s story, and on the opening line of American Street, I realize that Fabiola has broken the glass with her thoughts. She brings readers deep inside her spiritual and emotional life, and on a troubled journey to feel part of one particular American community. The result is a gorgeous story that will stay with you for a very long time.


“I know for a fact…”: Insights & Inspirations from Ibi Zoboi


IbiZIbi and I weren’t able to connect for an interview in time for this post, but I did manage to draw some inspiring and challenging words from her. You can follow the links to hear more from Ibi about why she wrote American Street, and about how she’s working to create change.


On what inspired her to write this story:


“Fabiola’s story is a little bit of my story and the stories of so many other Haitians I know. I was born in Haiti and I came to the U.S. with my mother when I was four. Although Fabiola is a teenager, I shared many of her world views as a child. My own mother was never detained, but on a trip back to Haiti when I was eight, I was not allowed to re-enter the U.S. My mother did everything she could to get me back. I also still have siblings and family living in Haiti. So many of them have tried and failed to obtain a visa over the years. With so much change going on in Haiti right now, I’m sure that many families are struggling with the same issues. I wanted to highlight one teen girl’s experience. But the story is much, much more than immigrant narrative.” (Woy Magazine, Link to the source here.)

On her responsibility as a writer, in the context of violence and trauma:

“I know for a fact that we all have experienced immigration and assimilation in different ways. I tried to remedy that by literally giving each of my characters a voice. I had to step in their shoes for a moment in order to humanize them. I have a responsibility as a writer to provide context for the violence and trauma so that my characters are not one-dimensional.” (Kreyolicious, Link to source here.)


On what words she’d share with Haitian-American teenage women:


[Do] not be afraid to be critical, especially in this day and age. I want them to build the confidence to speak up. I want them to be fearless.” (School Library Journal, link to source here.)


“Provide a context”: Great reads & resources to give context for American Street


The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race, edited by Jesmyn Ward (Yes, yes. I already recommended this anthology of essays in January, but – as you can see by these Edwidge Danticat quotes – it’s that good.)


Haiti, History, and the Gods by Joan Dayan – I wouldn’t dare to claim that this is an easy read, but it absolutely is worth the effort, bringing a complex understanding of both Haitian history and the practice of Vodou.


The Big Truck that Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster, By Jonathan M. Katz  – Have you ever wondered what happens after all the ‘Go Fund Me’ campaigns and huge international disaster relief efforts? This account by a journalist who was in Haiti for a long time after the earthquake is both eye-opening and a great read.


If you’re looking to learn more about immigration detention and get up-to-date information on changes in policy, take a look at the very informative websites of these two advocacy organizations: Detention Watch Network and End Isolation: CIVIC.


And I can’t resist recommending this beautiful picture book that tells a Haitian girl’s story of being separated from her mother by detention: Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation.



“Build the Confidence to Speak Up…”: Where to go to get involved


United We Dream Protest (Source: Unitedwedream.org)

United We Dream Protest (Source: Unitedwedream.org)

Ready to take action?  Here are a few recommendations for organizations and movements that are building a more just world by opening space and opportunity for young adults. The first of these groups focuses especially on those whose lives are impacted by detention and deportation. The others, recommended by Ibi Zoboi, work with young people whose voices are underrepresented in leadership. They create space, opportunity, and platforms for young activist leaders to craft and share their own stories, as a way to make social change.


United We Dream: The largest immigrant youth-led community in the United States, working to “transform fear into finding your voice”


http://communitywordproject.org/  “ Community-Word Project is a New York City based 501(c)(3) arts-in-education organization that inspires children in underserved communities to read, interpret and respond to their world and to become active citizens through collaborative arts residencies and teacher training programs.”


http://www.sadienash.org/    “Sadie Nash Leadership Project was founded in 2001 to promote leadership and activism among young women. The program is designed to strengthen, empower, and equip young women as agents for change in their lives and in the world.”


And a final note… “May that day come…”


Edwidge Danticat ends the essay excerpted above with these powerful words to her daughters: “’You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read,’ James Baldwin wrote. Or you see. Or you weep. Or you pray. Or you speak. Or you write. Or you fight so that one day everyone will be able to walk the earth as though they, to use Baldwin’s words, ‘have a right to be here.’ May that day come, Mira and Leila, when you can finally claim those crowns of yours and put them on your heads. When that day of jubilee finally arrives, all of us will be there with you, walking, heads held high, crowns a-glitter, because we do have a right to be here.” (From “Message to my Daughters” in The Fire this Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race)


“…but then you read” and you #ReadForChange!


Here’s a link to the giveaway of Ibi Zoboi’s American Street. We’ll be announcing the winner on Twitter @MarieFMarquardt and Instagram marie_marquardt on April 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.


My Top Ten Internet Things (IRL), a guest post by Danika Stone

internet famousToday, author Danika Stone joins us to talk about her favorite places to spend time online. Her newest book, INTERNET FAMOUS, also releases today. 


When you’ve written two books that take place almost entirely online, it becomes obvious you spend a lot of time there. Yes, I admit it’s true. Years ago, almost all the fights I had with my parents came down to “hiding away” in my room rather than “hanging out” like the rest of my friends. Nowadays, I have the successful excuse of “networking” to explain the countless hours I spend online. And while there’s truth to that, there’s far more truth to the Internet being a really FUN place to be.


Here are my top ten online time-wasters:

  1. PicMonkey: This free online site lets you alter images with Photoshop-like ease, at no cost. If you ever wished you could polish your photographs, but didn’t know how, this site lets you. While some features are “Royale” only (read: pay to use), most are free. I’ve spent DAYS playing with this site.


  1. The Way Back Machine: Ever lost a website and wish you could go back in time to find it? Now you CAN. (This is actually part of the plot of Internet Famous.)


  1. Tumblr: I’ve used Tumblr for nearly four years, and it never ceases to amaze me how many things I’ve discovered while there. With a searchable database of tags, it doesn’t matter what your current fixation, you’ll find a hit on this image-heavy site. And once you start curating your searches, and following specific blogs, you’ll find even MORE to enjoy. Even my All the Feels characters have blogs:
    1. Liv: http://livoutloud.tumblr.com/
    2. Xander: http://steampunkxander.tumblr.com/
    3. Brian: http://starveilbrian1981.tumblr.com/
    4. Joe: http://joeswoesstarveil.tumblr.com/
    5. Kelly: http://spartangrrl.tumblr.com/
    6. Awkward Family Photos: If you haven’t wondered ‘what’s the worst family photo ever taken?’ then you haven’t lived. Go here. Bring tissues. You’ll laugh so hard you’ll cry.


  1. On the opposite end of the scale is Post Secret, which allows you to read through the secrets of people across the world. Some are funny, some are heartbreaking, and the site is addictive.


  1. You ever have a day when you just couldn’t get out of bed because you felt so awful? Then Baby Animal Cam is for you. I don’t care WHAT is happening, there are moments of joy to be found on these links from around the world!


  1. Mental Floss: There are times when you want to read something, but don’t have time for a book. Your parents are showing up for dinner in fifteen minutes, or you’ve got an interview and don’t want to be late. Mental Floss is the perfect alternative. With plenty of random information, you can jump into a post without any intention and find something intriguing that you never knew. Unexpected benefit: You will sound smarter at parties when making small talk.


  1. Love to make things? Depthy is a new 3D Anaglyph creator. You ‘paint’ in the closer parts and the online program does the rest. You can save as a 3D picture, or export it as a video or gif. Believe me, you’ll spend HOURS on this site.


  1. The Oatmeal is (almost) my favorite place to spend time online. The next site barely shades it out, but it’s also on this list because it has a post that’s my all-time favorite posts on the Internet ever. Whenever I’m having a terrible day. You know, the day your editor calls and tells you “I like the story, but let’s redo everything after page 50” kind of day… I reread this post about Gene Roddenberry. It’s perfect.


And that brings me to my MOST favorite place to waste time online…


  1. Hyperbole and a Half: I’m not sure why this isn’t required reading for everyone in university. (Seriously though, the explanation of depression could help everyone.) It is funny and poignant and one of the best things around. If you aren’t following the posts, start today.


So how about you? What are YOUR favorite places to hide online? Comments are open and I’d love to hear your answers. 😀


Want to enter to win a copy of Danika Stone’s new book, INTERNET FAMOUS? Of course you do! Head on over to the Rafflecopter to enter to win one of three copies. Giveaway is open to the US, UK, and Canada! Contest ends June 10, 2017. 


DanikaStonePortrait2Meet Danika Stone

Danika Stone is an author, artist, and educator who discovered a passion for writing fiction while in the throes of her Masters thesis. A self-declared bibliophile, Danika now writes novels for both adults (Edge of Wild, The Intaglio Series and Ctrl Z) and teens (Internet Famous, All the Feels and Icarus). When not writing, Danika can be found hiking in the Rockies, planning grand adventures, and spending far too much time online. She lives with her husband, three sons, and a houseful of imaginary characters in a windy corner of Alberta, Canada.

Ms. Stone is represented by Morty Mint of Mint Literary Agency

Sense Shaming in YA: How Could She Let that Happen? a guest post by and interview with S.M. Parker

girl who“How could she let that happen?” is a question asked far too often when a girl is the victim of dating violence or domestic abuse. It implies the abuse was her fault. That she was not smart enough to distance herself from the abuse. It implies that walking away from abuse is simple. And it assumes that abuse is easy to spot.


Just as “Slut Shaming” degrades a girl for embracing or exploring her sexuality, I would propose that “Sense Shaming” degrades a girl for not having the sense—the intelligence or agency—to avoid a manipulative, abusive relationship. But the intricacies of an abusive relationship are typically subtle and insidious in their development. My YA debut THE GIRL WHO FELL (reviewed here on Teen Librarian Toolbox) explores how this type of manipulation and isolation can happen to anyone. Smart girls. Driven Girls. Focused Girls. Any girl.


In THE GIRL WHO FELL, our main character, Zephyr Doyle, experiences her sexual awakening. She finds love in a boy that appears to be kind and caring and trusting. He listens to her words, understands her fears and accepts her insecurities without judgement. The boy builds a storm of intoxicating trust made of shared secrets, deep kisses and unwavering support. But the boy wants more. He wants to control Zephyr. Keep her close. Own her.


Gradually, Zephyr stops focusing on her friends, sports, and academics. She wants to give her boy what he wants because she is in love. Some say that reading THE GIRL WHO FELL is like watching a friend navigate an unhealthy relationship and you want to scream “NO!” over and over again. It is so easy for the reader to see how the relationship is flawed, but Zephyr is blinded to the toxicity. Not because she is stupid. Not because she has no sense. But because she is being manipulated by a person who knows how to play upon her deepest insecurities.


This mirrors reality. According to Love Is Respect, “one in three teens in the U.S. will experience physical, sexual or emotional abuse by someone they are in a relationship with before they become adults.” Most of these girls will not realize they are in an abusive relationship right away, while their friends and family may see it all too clearly. Victimized girls will need the support and strength of friends to gain their freedom from the unhealthy relationship. Each of these girls deserve not to be judged, shamed or ridiculed because a boy thought love was gaining control over her every move, her every ambition.


THE GIRL WHO FELL is a novel that embraces the power of one’s voice and the strength it takes to reclaim your voice. It is, at its core, a hopeful book. It explores a tough subject matter that won’t be for everyone, though I hope it helps readers to see that manipulation can happen to anyone. THE GIRL WHO FELL illustrates how abuse is never the victim’s fault. That victims are not alone. That love should never hurt. And that blaming the victim is not a solution.


Amanda’s interview with Shannon

Amanda: What inspired examining an abusive relationship in The Girl Who Fell?

Shannon: There are so many books about the magic of first love. How it is tempting and luscious and beautiful. But it is also so dangerous. You ask yourself: Can I trust this person with my heart? My body? My dreams? And there are plenty of books that scream YES to these questions. They are the books of Happily Ever After.


I wanted to write a story that explored the dangers of first love. What happens when you can’t trust the person you love? What happens when love turns toxic? And how does a strong and determined girl fall for a charming boy who is—at his core—awful and damaged (and damaging)?


I wanted to write this story because I know it is a reality for countless teens and I don’t think it is talked about enough.


While writing THE GIRL WHO FELL, I wanted readers to fall for Alec’s manipulation alongside Zephyr and maybe begin to understand how this type of “fall” can happen, even to the smartest, most driven teenage girl. How falling doesn’t mean you are weak. And that you shouldn’t feel shame.


I wanted to write a book that tells girls that they always, ALWAYS have the right to regain their voice.


Amanda: What research did you have to do? What did you learn from researching and writing this story?

Shannon: My research for THE GIRL WHO FELL was mostly anecdotal. I am fortunate that I get to spend my days working with teens in an alternative education program. Much of that time is spent listening. Listening to the stories of young adults made one rise in me. And I am forever grateful for organization like LoveIsRespect that provide statistics, tools, and hope.


Amanda: Did you make major changes to the story or the characters from when you conceived of the idea to its final draft?

Shannon: Yes. In fact, I made major changes to the book after it sold to Simon & Schuster. I am fortunate to have a brilliant editor in Nicole Ellul and she helped me to see that the relationship between Zephyr and Alec had to build more slowly, so the reader would “fall” alongside Zephyr and understand her choices. But Alec never changed much in revisions; the DNA of his character—and the arc of manipulation—remained the same throughout revisions.


Amanda: For those of us raising boys, what important things can we be doing so they don’t grow up to be monsters like Alec?

Shannon: Oh, that is a big question! I’m also a mom to boys and wouldn’t want to witness either son to become a manipulator, or fall victim to manipulation. I try to teach my sons to practice indiscriminate kindness. I’m a firm believer that kindness is contagious, and the world could use a whole lot more of it. But also, teaching respect is key. Not only the respect to treat other humans as their equals, but to not judge someone who makes different choices than they would.  In my professional life and personal life, I listen a lot. I hope my sons will understand the power of listening to—and really hearing—other people’s stories. I hope they will grow up to be men that treat each unique human experience with kindness and respect.

Thank you so much for having me on TLT today, Amanda! I’ve so enjoyed speaking with you about THE GIRL WHO FELL and the issues it explores.


Meet Shannon Parker

Shannon_HeadshotShannon M. Parker lives on the coast of Maine with her husband and sons. As a young adult, she traveled dozens of countries and still has a few dozen more to go. She spends her days working in education and holds degrees from three New England universities. She can usually be found rescuing dogs, chickens, old houses and wooden boats. Shannon has a weakness for chocolate chip cookies and ridiculous laughter—ideally, at the same time. The Girl Who Fell is her first novel. Find her at www.shannonmparker.com