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Book Review: Brave Face: A Memoir by Shaun David Hutchinson

Publisher’s description

Critically acclaimed author of We Are the Ants—described as having “hints of Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five (School Library Journal)—opens up about what led to an attempted suicide in his teens, and his path back from the experience.

“I wasn’t depressed because I was gay. I was depressed and gay.”

Shaun David Hutchinson was nineteen. Confused. Struggling to find the vocabulary to understand and accept who he was and how he fit into a community in which he couldn’t see himself. The voice of depression told him that he would never be loved or wanted, while powerful and hurtful messages from society told him that being gay meant love and happiness weren’t for him.

A million moments large and small over the years all came together to convince Shaun that he couldn’t keep going, that he had no future. And so he followed through on trying to make that a reality.

Thankfully Shaun survived, and over time, came to embrace how grateful he is and how to find self-acceptance. In this courageous and deeply honest memoir, Shaun takes readers through the journey of what brought him to the edge, and what has helped him truly believe that it does get better.

Amanda’s thoughts

I’m a big fan of memoirs. While most of my reading is of children’s and YA books, when I do grab an adult book from the library, it is frequently a memoir. I like the deep dive into someone’s life. I like seeing them raw and unpacking their challenges and successes. So when a memoir comes out by one of my favorite YA authors, you can bet I will devour it.

For me, this had an added element of interest. I’m the same age as Hutchinson—we both graduated high school in 1996. We were both depressed and anxious teens, kept journals (and hung onto them all this time—I have a whole bin of my journals from elementary school through college), listened to a lot of the same music, wrote for the school paper, and so on. For me, as an adult reader, I really felt myself right there with Hutchinson because I really *saw* him. I would’ve been friends with him. My computer-programming, D&D-playing, fantasy-novel-reading husband would’ve been friends with him.

I spent the whole memoir really wanted two things for Hutchinson: for him to find his people and for him to get the mental health help he needed. And that’s really want this whole memoir is about. We follow Hutchinson through high school and a few years of college. We watch him go from an excited ninth grader positive about his future to a severely depressed and self-loathing older teen who can’t see anything good in his present or his future, feels like a failure, and grows increasingly reckless. We watch him participate in drama and debate, work various jobs, hang out with his close girl friend, play D&D, and half-heartedly date and make out with some girls. Meanwhile he’s feeling increasingly irritated, having meltdowns, lashing out while alone, and writing in his journal about his misery and his suicidal ideation.

We also see Hutchinson really struggle with being gay. He writes a lot about how his negative and limited idea of what it would mean to be gay came from the culture and stories around him at this time in the 90s. He wasn’t able to see beyond horrible stereotypes and miserable endings. He simply didn’t have any other examples. And he certainly didn’t have any kind of community to help him work through these thoughts. Even as he came to understand that he was gay, he still lacked examples of love or romance or happiness. His view of his life, already complicated by his untreated depression, grew darker.

Eventually, Hutchinson attempts suicide and ends up in a psychiatric treatment facility. There is a content warning for this part of the book to allow readers to skip over the details included here. He then summarizes life after this time—the ups and downs of both relationships and various treatments. He leaves readers with the important message that it can indeed get better, though it can take a while to get there. And, most importantly, it’s okay to ask for help—that struggling alone and putting on a brave face isn’t required.

This is a powerful and painfully honest look at surviving while finding your place, your people, and self-acceptance.

Review copy (e-ARC) courtesy of Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781534431515
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: 05/21/2019

Writing with a Trigger Warning, a guest post by Victoria Lee

“Write what you know.” We get that advice a lot, as authors. Writing from experience builds deeper, more authentic stories. Sometimes it’s as easy as writing a known setting—for example, my debut novel, The Fever King, is set in a speculative version of my own hometown. Who is gonna know how to write Durham better than me?

 

But other times, writing what you know means writing narratives that are important…but really personal and really, really difficult. In some ways, we want the people who have lived these experiences to write them. On the other hand, writing about trauma and discrimination and mental illness can be incredibly triggering for the author themselves.

The author as a teen.

The author as a teen.

In my books—both The Fever King and in books I’m writing now, or have written in the past—I’ve wrestled with the push and pull of wanting to tell the hard story and wanting simultaneously to hide from it. It’s a very personal choice, deciding whether or not you’re ready to tell certain stories. Not just because they’ll be hard to write, but because if they ever get published, you’ll be asked to explain how those experiences relate to your own (c.f. the ever-present interview question: What inspired you to write this book?).

 

I survived sexual abuse as a child, and subsequent to that I dealt with a lot of mental health and substance use issues. It’s not uncommon among survivors—you want to splint the parts of you that feel broken with whatever materials you can reach. I wrote about both of these issues in my most recent books, and while in a lot of ways writing so frankly about these experiences was cathartic, other times it got difficult. I found myself having to take breaks after certain scenes. Oddly enough, it was never the scenes themselves that triggered me—it was the little details: describing a certain expression on an abuser’s face, or the way it feels to tell someone the truth and wonder if they see you differently now.

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But I keep writing these stories. I feel like I have to—like I’m contributing one particular facet of this experience to the conversation about mental health and survivorship, and in a lot of ways, the story I’m telling is the story I wish I’d had when I was a teen.

 

A critique partner once asked me if I ever planned to write about characters who weren’t survivors of some kind of trauma. I told her no. I’m not done telling survivors’ stories. Honestly, I don’t know that I’ll ever be done. Because if just one reader tells me my books made them feel seen, it’ll all have been worth it.

Meet Victoria Lee

Victoria Lee author photo (no credit)Victoria Lee is the author of The Fever King, which Skyscape will publish on March 1, 2019. She grew up in Durham, North Carolina, where she spent twelve ascetic years as a vegetarian before discovering that spicy chicken wings are, in fact, a delicacy. She’s been a state finalist competitive pianist, a hitchhiker, a pizza connoisseur, an EMT, an expat in China and Sweden, and a science doctoral student. She’s also a bit of a snob about fancy whiskey. Lee writes early in the morning and then spends the rest of the day trying to impress her border collie puppy and make her experiments work. She currently lives in PA with her partner. www.victorialeewrites.com

 

Follow her on Twitter: @sosaidvictoria, Instagram: @sosaidvictoria, and Facebook: @victorialeewrites

 

About THE FEVER KING

 

fever kingIn the former United States, sixteen-year-old Noam Álvaro wakes up in a hospital bed, the sole survivor of the viral magic that killed his family and made him a technopath. His ability to control technology attracts the attention of the minister of defense and thrusts him into the magical elite of the nation of Carolinia.

The son of undocumented immigrants, Noam has spent his life fighting for the rights of refugees fleeing magical outbreaks—refugees Carolinia routinely deports with vicious efficiency. Sensing a way to make change, Noam accepts the minister’s offer to teach him the science behind his magic, secretly planning to use it against the government. But then he meets the minister’s son—cruel, dangerous, and achingly beautiful—and the way forward becomes less clear.

Caught between his purpose and his heart, Noam must decide who he can trust and how far he’s willing to go in pursuit of the greater good.

ISBN-13: 9781542040402
Publisher: Amazon Publishing
Publication date: 03/01/2019
Series: Feverwake Series #1

The Life Saving Slogan: You are Not Alone, a guest post by Shelley Sackier

Credit: Robin Gott

Credit: Robin Gott

The term “winter break” easily conjures the images of families rushing toward a round of winter skiing, a child-friendly cruise, or a palm-shaded beach. We see ourselves festooning the halls and holiday tables, and carefully honing those once a year meals. We picture a throng of college students dashing home toward the warm embrace of family, far removed from the windowless lecture halls they’ve occupied those first harrowing months of school.

But one year, winter break was anything but the above. For me, that is. And for my then freshman daughter too.

That year, I spent the time vigilant and restless. I spent it hoping to hear the words in someone else’s thoughts. I needed to measure her struggle, my daughter’s level of distress.

Her campus was in crisis mode, all parents on high alert. One lamentable word refused to be muted, would not release its steadfast grip.

Suicide.

Chronic stress is a disease college students are well-acquainted with. This unforgiving malady inflicts academic anxiety, depletes crucial sleep, and unleashes widespread social struggles, challenging our children to fit in somewhere new in someplace foreign.

A nerve-wracking fact among parents and educators, the leading cause of death among university students is suicide. We brace ourselves against the wretched news. One is horrifically tragic. A second is a spreading concern.

But five?

Five within one year? All on one campus?

It left me desperate to talk to my child … and to hear my child talk.

I wanted her home—where I could see her. But I forced a stay on that eager need, reminding myself she was attempting to build a new home. To redefine who she was. To discover where she will next belong.

We’d speak on the phone. I’d offer her words. But they were paltry, providing only an anemic balm. It’s impossible to obtain an accurate reading in such a situation, and a terrible tug of war is unleashed. The wanting to rush someplace and fix something. But that is not always the answer.

Your answer is not always their answer.

As YA authors, as librarians guiding our youth toward books that will speak to them, and as teachers in charge of creating and directing emotional curriculum as well as academic ones, we have a tremendous task we must address with urgency and gravity. We hunt for stories to explain what we personally cannot: who they are.

We try connecting children to others like them, to find solace, unity, and sureness. We introduce them to characters—whether fictional or real—who will communicate acceptance and normalcy. And the earlier we build this bridge for them, the more surefooted they can grow as they cross it, forging an identity with confidence.

If my daughter were asked to provide a profile form, defining herself, it’s likely she’d have said:

A scientist.

A musician.

An activist.

But also … imposter.

One does not see a checkbox for this identifier, but it rings true for many, and countless students feel unescorted claiming membership to this dismal club, having no idea just how many others have registered before them.

They feel they will be found out, singled out—that the mistake that brought them to this place they don’t belong, this class that is too hard, this group that is too prominent will raise a demoralizing red flag above them, and everyone will finally see what they suspected all along: that they are an outsider who accidentally slipped in.

As educators, if we miss the early crucial moments to illuminate thousands of voices within the digital or paper pages of books and do not unite our children with those who can elucidate their disorienting emotions, then we miss the fleeting opportunity to assure them that they can go on—despite their discomfort. We miss the chance to say that struggling and suffering does not mean one cannot make it through struggling and suffering.

As an author, my job is to create problems for my characters, to throw them into peril, and then to help them find clever ways out of that distress. As a parent, my wish is not for my children to experience catastrophe, but rather know what to do when trouble arises and where the path to safety is located.

Success may emerge with a book instead of a parental lecture. A wagging finger, foretelling danger, might not convey as effectively as an engaging narrative. Perched on my children’s beds, reassuring them that the questions they hold about themselves are typical of teens might not ring with enough resonance as reading about someone who they feel speaks their language, and who went through the thick of it, having made it through to the other side.

When my daughter was preparing to return to school, I helped her pack. Folding clothes on the floor, I glanced up, scanning the abundant bookshelves on either side of her bed.

She caught my wandering gaze. “Not everyone is given a happy ending, Mom.”

I looked at her firmly. “Maybe not,” I’d said. “But there’s nothing wrong with trying to insert as many chapters into one’s life as is possible. It’s my job. I show people a way through and a way out. My message is, you are not alone.”

As mentors, caregivers, and counselors, we face a daunting task. But we must seek every tool available to assist us with the process of grasping our teens and pulling them through to that “other side” where we stand. Losing our grip can mean losing a life.

 

Mental Health emergency links

SAMHSA Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration – Preventing Suicide: A Toolkit for High Schools

SPRC – After a Suicide: A toolkit for Schools

SPTS The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-(TALK) 8255

Lifeline Social Media Toolkit (pdf resource and support for suicidal individuals on social and digital media)

SAVE – Suicide Awareness Voices of Education

 

Meet Shelley Sackier

Photo credit: Jinx

Photo credit: Jinx

Shelley Sackier is the author of The Freemason’s Daughter (HarperCollins 2017), Dear Opl (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky 2015), and the upcoming novel, The Antidote (HarperCollins 2019). She writes both middle grade and YA fiction. She visits schools to illuminate the merits of embracing failure just like NASA and to further her campaign to erect monuments to all librarians.

Bonus Content: The Antidote Playlist – Google Play or The Antidote Playlist – Spotify  (both just music) and The Antidote Playlist Details (with spoilers!—song descriptions for where they fall within the book).

Website: www.shelleysackier.com

Facebook page: @ShelleySackierBooks

Twitter: @ShelleySackier

Goodreads: Shelley Sackier

Instagram: @ShelleySackier

Pinterest: ShelleySackier

 

About The Antidote

antidoteThe Antidote by Shelley Sackier (ISBN-13: 9780062453471 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 02/05/2019)

 

From the author of The Freemason’s Daughter comes a lush romantic fantasy perfect for fans of Everless!

In the world of healers, there is no room for magic.

Fee knows this, just as certainly as she knows that her magic must be kept secret.

But the crown prince Xavi, Fee’s best friend and only source of comfort, is sick. So sick, that Fee can barely contain the magic lying dormant inside her. She could use it, just a little, to heal him. But magic comes at a deadly cost—and attracts those who would seek to snuff it out forever.

A wisp of a spell later, Fee finds herself caught in a whirl of secret motivations and dark pasts, where no one is who—or what—they appear to be. And saving her best friend means delving deeper into the tempting and treacherous world whose call she’s long resisted—uncovering a secret that will change everything.

Laini Taylor meets Sara Holland in this lavish fantasy from lauded historical romance author Shelley Sackier!

Book Review: The Resolutions by Mia Garcia

Publisher’s description

resolutionsA heart-expanding novel about four Latinx teens who make New Year’s resolutions for one another—and the whirlwind of a year that follows. Fans of Erika L. Sánchez and Emery Lord will fall for this story of friendship, identity, and the struggle of finding yourself when all you want is to start over.

From hiking trips to four-person birthday parties to never-ending group texts, Jess, Lee, Ryan, and Nora have always been inseparable. But now with senior year on the horizon, they’ve been growing apart. And so, as always, Jess makes a plan.

Reinstating their usual tradition of making resolutions together on New Year’s Eve, Jess adds a new twist: instead of making their own resolutions, the four friends assign them to one another—dares like kiss someone you know is wrong for you, find your calling outside your mom’s Puerto Rican restaurant, finally learn Spanish, and say yes to everything.

But as the year unfolds, Jess, Lee, Ryan, and Nora each test the bonds that hold them together. And amid first loves, heartbreaks, and life-changing decisions, beginning again is never as simple as it seems.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I shouldn’t, but of course I judge a book by its cover. It’s what stops me when I’m scrolling through online catalogs or pulling books off the shelf in a library or bookstore. Sometimes I’m wrong about a book—cover looks great and totally like something I’d love but book is meh—but sometimes the book is just as fun and cute and unique as its cover. Thankfully, that was the case for The Resolutions. I read it in one sitting.

 

Denver Latinx teens Jess, Lee, Nora, and Ryan are best friends. While still incredibly tight, it’s the middle of junior year and a they all have a lot going on in their lives. Ryan is still reeling from his breakup with Jason, Lee is struggling with whether or not to get tested for Huntington’s Disease (the disease that killed her mother), Nora is wondering if she can really handle a future that just holds going to a local college and continuing to work at her family’s restaurant, and Jess is busy, as always, taking on too many responsibilities. On New Year’s Eve, they assign each other resolutions, hoping to push each other out of their comfort zones (in a good way), encouraging each other to do the things they always talk about but never do. It’s been increasingly hard to coordinate time to all be together, and Jess hopes a project like this will help keep their bond strong. But, as you might expect, pursuing these resolutions is hardly uncomplicated, though the gentle pushes from their friends do help them discover parts of themselves they otherwise may have taken longer to know. 

 

There is so much to like about this book. Garcia’s keen ear for realistic dialogue really makes for effortless reading—it’s easy to cruise through lots of pages really feeling like you’re listening to friends talking. Including some of their text messages to each other also lends itself to that feeling. Though many of the friends are involved in romantic relationships—Ryan is recovering from his boyfriend breaking up with him, Lee is suddenly seeing someone old with new eyes, and bisexual Nora is happily dating the same girl she’s been with for a while—this is solidly a friendship story. The love and support and encouragement they offer each other is so great to see. Garcia manages to write about serious subjects, like Lee’s worries about Huntington’s Disease or Nora’s perceived lack of control over her future or Jess’s increasing and frightening panic attacks, with a light touch. These issues (and more) feel weighty and important, but maybe because of the support in their lives they also feel like things that can be conquered or achieved. As the story follows them through part of junior year and part of senior year (from one New Year’s Eve to another), we see them struggle, change, grow, and succeed in ways that feel very honest, real, and inspiring. Through it all, the bond of their friendship helps them grow up and grow together. I suspect teen readers will devour this totally satisfying look at identity, obstacles, and friendship. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062656827
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 11/13/2018

Sunday Reflections: When Darkness Means You Can’t Read – Reflections on Mental Health and Reading

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TRIGGER WARNING: This post discusses depression, anxiety, mental illness and suicide

Recently, Time magazine reported that less 1/3 of teens don’t read for pleasure. At the same time, a lot of YA/Teen librarians are looking at their circulation statistics and wondering why they’re going down. I did a completely informal and unscientific Twitter poll, and about half of the 88 respondants indicated that their circulation stats were going down. This was not surprising to me because it’s something that I see a lot of my peers talking about and working to fix.

There are a lot of possible reasons as to why. For one, we know that more teens are reading digitally and these circulation statistics aren’t counted in traditional ways. If you use Hoopla, for example, they don’t separate YA books out in their reports. But we know that a lot of teens are migrating to digital content, both ebooks and audiobooks. In addition, a lot of teens are abandoning traditionally published fiction and embracing fanfiction on forums such at Wattpad. It’s not that teens aren’t reading, they’re just reading differently. And of course, we can’t ignore that a lot of teens are spending more time engaged with social media just as adults are.

In just the five years between 2010 and 2015, the number of U.S. teens who felt useless and joyless – classic symptoms of depression – surged 33 percent in large national surveys. Teen suicide attempts increased 23 percent. Even more troubling, the number of 13- to 18-year-olds who committed suicide jumped 31 percent. (Source: http://theconversation.com/with-teen-mental-health-deteriorating-over-five-years-theres-a-likely-culprit-86996)

But I would like to suggest that another reason for the decline in reading pleasure would be the increase in mental illness. Statistically, we are seeing a growing number of teens report episodes of depression and anxiety. The Center for Disease Control reports that incidents of depression, anxiety and suicide having been steadily rising for teens, and I think this is a significant issue that needs to be addressed for a lot of obvious reasons, but also because I think it affects reading.

I am an adult human who struggles with depression and anxiety. I am prone to panic attacks and have some serious moments of suicidal ideation. As such, I find myself involved in a lot of online forums with others who struggle with these same issues. One of the things that seems common for a majority of us is that when we are in the midst of a depression or anxiety spiral, reading is hard. Full, immersive reading that requires a type of physical and emotional investment can be hard for people struggling with mental illness. Let me explain.

For a lot of us with depression and anxiety, the most basic of functions can require an amount of energy that can be hard to muster. Your body can feel heavy, weighed down. You’re tired a lot. And if you are in an anxiety spiral, there is a lot of negative self talk that is happening in your head that takes a very dominant position. All of this is a type of clutter in the mind and body that makes everything else so much harder. So your goal is to survive and, if possible, dull the static noises inside of you. For me, and many others like me, scrolling through social media and looking at pictures or reading fluff headlines while watching fluff tv in the background can sere as a means to try and help drown out the noises. It’s a type of survival technique to help get you through the moment. I personally find that Food Network or mindless comedies are great for this. They’re not heavy, they don’t require invested attention, and the fluff of it helps me to cope. And the act of scrolling and reading on the Internet takes up a space that darkness is trying to occupy.

These are coping techniques. I’m not saying that they are healthy ones, but I find them to be employed by a lot of my fellow depression and anxiety sufferers. For many of us, there are periods of time when reading for pleasure is just simply not an option.

In the height of my worst depressive episode, I went three months without being able to read a book. I typically read about 3 books a week, but there are often times when I can read no books at all because I can’t get my mind settled enough to commit to the act of reading. I have reason to believe that I am not the only person that this is true for.

Yes, it is different for some people and for them, reading is the escape that they need. Reading can be the coping mechanism that some need while for others it is an insurmountable hurdle. No two people struggle with the same mental health issues in the same ways. But I think it is important that we acknowledge two things when considering a decline in reading:

1. We live in a world where many people are facing increasing struggles with depression and anxiety.

2. For some people, un-managed mental health issues can result in the loss of the ability to read for periods of time.

I believe that it is important that we talk more about and provide better treatment and support for mental health issues in our world. I also think if we truly want to explore things like education and reading for pleasure, this is another reason we need to look into mental health more closely. Not every teen who chooses not to read is struggling with mental health issues, but I believe that some of them are and recognizing that will help us better understand the problem and get us talking about mental health, coping strategies, support and treatment. What if part of the reasons teens are reading less is because they are hurting more? It’s a question we should investigate.

Twin Cities Teen Lit Con 2018: Mental Health in YA Literature Presentation

Saturday, May 12 was Twin Cities Teen Lit Con, a wonderful yearly event that I have now had the honor of speaking at for the past three years. This year it took place at Chaska High School, an absolutely stunning (and giant!) school. If you’re unfamiliar with Teen Lit Con, it’s exactly what it sounds like: a convention dedicated to teen (YA) literature. This event is FOR teens—teens win the prizes, teens get first dibs at getting a seat in sessions, etc. I feel extremely fortunate to not only present there each year, and meet so many wonderful teens, but to then also be able to hear fantastic talks from YA authors from around the country. Big thanks to everyone at MELSA, the Teen Lit Con team, the many volunteers, and Chaska High School for the amazing day. What a lot of work went into pulling it off.

 

Waiting for the kickoff panel with Angie Thomas, Adam Silvera, Melissa de la Cruz, and Barry Lyga.

Waiting for the panel with Angie Thomas, Adam Silvera, Melissa de la Cruz, & Barry Lyga.

 

 

 

Two years ago, I presented on new and forthcoming YA. Last year I also presented on Mental Health in YA Lit. I presented one session to an absolutely packed room. You can read more about that here. This year, they asked me to present my Mental Health in YA Lit talk twice, so we can accommodate everyone who wanted to attend without squishing people into one session. I was a little nervous because my first session was opposite Adam Silvera’s talk and wasn’t sure anyone would come see me when they could be seeing Adam. Fortunately, my room filled up.

 

 

 

 

Callum and his BFF Miya came with me and were lots of help setting up all my free stuff.

 

Mental Health in YA Lit is one of my main areas of interest. I have presented on this topic before at NerdCon: Stories and for the International Bipolar Foundation (that webinar is archived and available in the link). Since 2016, we at Teen Librarian Toolbox have been running a Mental Health in YA Literature project (#MHYALit). This link will take you to the hub for our project, which so far has had well over 100 guest posts from authors, bloggers, librarians, and other teen advocates, often about our own mental health struggles and successes. I am passionate about advocating for mental health awareness, care, and representation in YA books. I never tire of talking about it.

 

Thank you to To Write Love on Her Arms, Mental Health Minnesota, and National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for providing me with free materials to hand out at each presentation. Thank you to my fellow Teen Librarian Toolbox blogger Karen Jensen for the reading- and TLT-related buttons. I also made buttons that said STRONG on them to hand out. Thank you to the great Buffy Summers for saying so many things that apply to both literal and metaphorical demon-slaying.

 

 

 

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IMG_2764 (1)A big thank you to the years of effective care and treatment behind me, and to the medications that allow me to get out of bed every day and function. Other than my laptop, the most important thing I packed for Teen Lit Con was my anxiety medication that I needed to pop before I could get up and speak in front of people. Thanks, science!

 

 

 

 

Posted around Chaska High School.

I’m going to post a few relevant statistics slide from my presentation here (click on the pictures to enlarge the slides). My presentation was a mix of the reasons why good, accurate, and compassionate mental health depiction in young adult literature is so vitally important; a look at the staggering statistics about teen mental health; and a rundown of just some of the many YA books I recommend that get mental health rep right. I also made handouts (because I love handouts) with YA titles that deal with mental health. Those are available here: Teen Lit Con 2018 handouts MHYALit and 2018 TLC Additional handoutSchools and libraries, please feel free to reproduce these and share these, but please leave my credit at the bottom of the page. 

 

 

 

 

 

My pal Dezra brought me this on Saturday. She couldn’t have known I would talk about feeling like a superhero in my talk. Sometimes you just share a brain with your pals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As has happened each time I’ve given a presentation on this topic, people came up to talk to me afterwards to share their stories or thank me for speaking out about a topic that still carries so much shame and stigma. All of those conversations after I talk are so important to me, but it’s the one with actual teenagers that really get me. One teen quietly asked me, “But how do I actually get some help if my parents don’t think there’s anything wrong with me?” Oof. As people waited to talk to me after, one attendee slipped me a note of thanks. Those conversations, those hugs, those notes are all so meaningful to me. If there is any one upside of living with mental illness (and believe me, it’s pretty hard to find one), it’s that I get to speak up about something so vitally important and help people feel less alone.

 

I had a long conversation after my morning presentation with a teacher who is advocating HARD for increased support and understanding of the mental health challenges her students are facing. We talked about using the privilege we have to speak up while so many others can’t. As a white middle class woman with lots of resources and support, I feel like it’s my duty to talk about something that remains so hard for others to talk about. I’ve somehow developed an impenetrable shell around me, one that doesn’t let the constant shame and stigma the world hurls at mentally ill people to get to me. There are so many who want to listen and who want to talk. There are so many who are so relieved to not feel alone. We’re not alone in this fight. The reminder is so powerful.

 

We had such a great day at Teen Lit Con. As a pretty hardcore introvert, being on display like that, socializing that much, drained me. But I can’t think of a better reason to feel totally tapped out than hanging out with people who love YA books. I can’t wait to do it all again next year!

 

(This post is cross-posted on my personal blog, amandamacgregor.net. Hop on over there to see lots of pictures of my three dachshunds, reviews of adult books I’m reading, parenting meltdowns, plenty of talk about mental health, and many more random thoughts.)

Book Review: Life Inside My Mind: 31 Authors Share Their Personal Struggles edited by Jessica Burkhart

Publisher’s description

life insideYour favorite YA authors including Ellen Hopkins, Maureen Johnson, and more recount their own experiences with mental illness in this raw, real, and powerful collection of essays that explores everything from ADD to PTSD.

Have you ever felt like you just couldn’t get out of bed? Not the occasional morning, but every day? Do you find yourself listening to a voice in your head that says “you’re not good enough,” “not good looking enough,” “not thin enough,” or “not smart enough”? Have you ever found yourself unable to do homework or pay attention in class unless everything is “just so” on your desk? Everyone has had days like that, but what if you have them every day?

You’re not alone. Millions of people are going through similar things. However issues around mental health still tend to be treated as something shrouded in shame or discussed in whispers. It’s easier to have a broken bone—something tangible that can be “fixed”—than to have a mental illness, and easier to have a discussion about sex than it is to have one about mental health.

Life Inside My Head is an anthology of true-life events from writers of this generation, for this generation. These essays tackle everything from neurodiversity to addiction to OCD to PTSD and much more. The goals of this book range from providing home to those who are feeling alone, awareness to those who are witnessing a friend or family member struggle, and to open the floodgates to conversation.

Participating writers include E.K. Anderson, J.L. Armentrout, Cyn Balog, Amber Benson, Francesca Lia Block, Jessica Burkhart, Crissa Chappell, Sarah Fine, Kelly Fiore, Candace Ganger, Meghan Kelley Hall, Cynthia Hand, Ellen Hopkins, Maureen Johnson, Tara Kelly, Karen Mahoney, Melissa Marr, Kim McCreight, Hannah Moskowitz, Scott Neumyer, Lauren Oliver, Aprilynne Pike, Tom Pollack, Amy Reed, Cindy Rodriquez, Francisco Stork, Wendy Tolliver, Rob Wells, Dan Wells, Rachel Wilson, and Sara Zarr.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Frequent readers of this blog will know just how important the topic of mental health is to those of us at TLT. In fact, we focused a whole year on examining Mental Health in YA Literature. The fact that not only are there now so many books that deal with mental health in good, accurate, supportive ways, but anthologies like this, that share authors’ real stories, is wonderful. I think it’s invaluable to see these real stories—to have so many prominent voices lending themselves to helping remove shame and stigma, to showing teen readers that they are not alone—they are, in fact, in pretty great company.

 

The authors included here write about a wide swath of mental health-related topics. In these 31 essays, they share about: anxiety, panic attacks, dermatillomania, OCD, depression, suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, addiction, PTSD, self-harm, ADHD, Alzheimer’s, bipolar disorder, postpartum depression, social anxiety, trichotillomania, nervous breakdowns, anorexia, and more. Generally writing in a very conversational tone, they talk about their symptoms, their medications, their treatments, their fears, their hope, and their survival. They talk about family histories of mental illness, shame, avoidance, recovery, and the sometimes long, hard road to getting help. The authors discuss things that have helped them, like medication, therapy, yoga, service animals, rehab, hospitalization, meditation, mindfulness, exercise, sleep, diet, and so much more.

 

Many of the authors note how hard writing this essay was, how even after (in most cases) years and years of treatment and acceptance, it is still extremely difficult to share these very personal stories. It’s so important that teens can see these stories, not just fictionalized in literature, but in nonfiction collections like this. While no one person experiences their mental illness exactly like any other, all of the authors in this anthology show that the most important common thread of their journeys is one of help and hope. An important addition to all collections. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481494649
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: 04/10/2018

#MHYALit: Small Towns and Mental Illness, a guest post by This is Not a Love Letter author Kim Purcell

Today we are honored to have a guest post by author Kim Purcell. She is discussing with us the topic of small towns and mental health. She is also generously offering to give away one copy of THIS IS NOT A LOVE LETTER, which comes out tomorrow, January 30th, from Disney Hyperion.

thisisnotaloveletter

In This Is Not a Love Letter, I wanted to talk about the issues of living with a mental illness in a small or isolated community. I grew up in an isolated, medium-sized mill town in Northern British Columbia.

Growing up, there was a stigma against seeking therapy and medicine for mental health issues. It’s gotten better now, everywhere, but small or isolated communities still have this problem.

In my research, I found that small towns statistically have more mental health issues, and these issues go untreated. Studies have shown that suburban teens also have higher rates of depression and anxiety, and rural teens commit suicide at twice the rate of their urban peers. In smaller communities, teens are more likely to turn to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate.

Is there something about living in a small community that leads to mental health issues? Is there anything we can do?

It turns out that it’s a combination of many factors. In any smaller environment, there are fewer therapists and psychologists. People are less likely to seek help due to the lack of anonymity and the stigma. Sometimes there are long waiting lists for the one psychiatrist in the region. In rural areas, it is compounded by poverty and a lack of health insurance.

On top of all this, smaller communities are particularly difficult for anyone who steps outside of the norm, who looks or acts differently. If you can’t conform, it can be a struggle. I found it difficult to conform, to be “normal”. Also, everyone knows and judges your business, and bullies are very hard to escape.

When I started writing This Is Not a Love Letter, I was living in a small village suburb of New York City with my husband and kids. We only lived there for two years, but I was alone too much, and I started to feel depressed. On top of that, I remembered all the ways that living in an isolated environment was difficult for me growing up, and also for my friend Al, who went missing right before graduation. This story is based on that time in my life.

In some ways, writing this book there helped me dive into the growing desperation of my main character, Jessie, as she starts to fear the very worst. As I looked around, I saw other women who were depressed, but nobody was talking about it. The place lacked the joy of the city. Mothers were held up to an impossible standard and this bled down to the kids. Children with mental health issues were socially isolated, and their mothers were seen as failing. There was an incredible amount of pressure on everyone.

For example, one friend of mine was a hoarder. It was untreated and hidden for years. This inspired the hoarder environment that Jessie lives in. It was how I processed her desperate situation. Fortunately, she did drive to get help, eventually.

In this book, I wanted to take the reader into the life of a small-town person, and to reach out to people in those small towns and tell them they aren’t alone, that it’s important to seek help, even if you have to travel to get it. Also, you can move to a bigger environment, where you’ll find other people like you, and it will change your life for the better. I have lived in Vancouver, Seoul, New York City, Guadalajara and Los Angeles, and I can tell you it’s a big difference. It’s great to be accepted for exactly who you are. So, if you’re a teen, just hang on, talk to your doctor, get help, and reach out to others online.

And if things get too hard, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

About THIS IS NOT A LOVE LETTER

One week. That’s all Jessie said. A one-week break to get some perspective before graduation, before she and her boyfriend, Chris, would have to make all the big, scary decisions about their future–decisions they had been fighting about for weeks.

Then, Chris vanishes. The police think he’s run away, but Jessie doesn’t believe it. Chris is popular and good-looking, about to head off to college on a full-ride baseball scholarship. And he disappeared while going for a run along the river–the same place where some boys from the rival high school beat him up just three weeks ago. Chris is one of the only black kids in a depressed paper mill town, and Jessie is terrified of what might have happened.

As the police are spurred to reluctant action, Jessie speaks up about the harassment Chris kept quiet about and the danger he could be in. But there are people in Jessie’s town who don’t like the story she tells, who are infuriated by the idea that a boy like Chris would be a target of violence. They smear Chris’s character and Jessie begins receiving frightening threats.

Every Friday since they started dating, Chris has written Jessie a love letter. Now Jessie is writing Chris a letter of her own to tell him everything that’s happening while he’s gone. As Jessie searches for answers, she must face her fears, her guilt, and a past more complicated than she would like to admit.

Publishes January 30, 2018 from Disney Hyperion. ISBN: 9781484798348

Meet Author Kim Purcell

Kim Purcell has written two young adult books, Trafficked (Penguin) and This Is Not a Love Letter (Hyperion). She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, two kids, two dogs and three cats. She loves dancing in elevators, swimming in lakes, drinking hot tea and eating chocolate chips with almonds.

Comment below to be entered to win a copy of This is Not a Love Letter by author Kim Purcell. Please enter by February 6th. Open to U.S. residents. One randomly selected winner will receive a copy of This is Not a Love Letter. You will be contacted via email. Do the Rafflecopter thingy to enter.


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Book Review: I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez

Publisher’s description

i am not yourThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian meets Jane the Virgin in this poignant but often laugh-out-loud funny contemporary YA about losing a sister and finding yourself amid the pressures, expectations, and stereotypes of growing up in a Mexican-American home. 
 
Perfect Mexican daughters do not go away to college. And they do not move out of their parents’ house after high school graduation. Perfect Mexican daughters never abandon their family.

But Julia is not your perfect Mexican daughter. That was Olga’s role.

Then a tragic accident on the busiest street in Chicago leaves Olga dead and Julia left behind to reassemble the shattered pieces of her family. And no one seems to acknowledge that Julia is broken, too. Instead, her mother seems to channel her grief into pointing out every possible way Julia has failed.

But it’s not long before Julia discovers that Olga might not have been as perfect as everyone thought. With the help of her best friend Lorena, and her first kiss, first love, first everything boyfriend Connor, Julia is determined to find out. Was Olga really what she seemed? Or was there more to her sister’s story? And either way, how can Julia even attempt to live up to a seemingly impossible ideal?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Julia is blunt, funny, sneaky, and also fairly miserable. Her sister, Olga, was recently killed and Julia feels more off-kilter than ever. She’s grieving, of course, but also intensely feeling her parents’ disappointment in her and trying to find ways to get a little breathing room, especially in respect to her judgmental and strict mother. All Julia wants to do is graduate and move to New York City to pursue her dream of becoming a writer, but it’s hard to feel like that dream could become a reality since her parents think a good daughter would be happy to continue living at home and attending community college. That’s what Olga did, and especially as far as her mother is concerned, Olga was perfect. Julia, who talks back, is unabashedly a feminist, and isn’t particularly concerned with consequences, knows she is far from her parents’ ideal. She carries that weight while trying to just live her life in spite of her grief and her increasing depression. And while Julia certainly doesn’t think she has her own life figured out, she did think she had Olga’s nailed: boring secretary who attends one class at a time and was her parents’ pride and joy. But while trying to get to know her now dead sister a little better, Julia must face the fact that she didn’t actually know her sister at all–that no one in their family did. Julia assembles clues based on her limited findings and follows them until she is able to put together a more realistic picture of who Olga was. 

 

Overall, I liked this book. Julia is a complex character. Her struggles as a first generation American teenager and as someone living in poverty are just as complex and well-drawn as she is. However, once I realized the part mental health would play in her story, I wanted more from it: I wanted it woven in throughout, instead of just kind of dropped in, and explored more fully. The plot suffers a bit from being overstuffed—not that she can’t have multiple things happening in her life at once (friends issues, grieving her sister, her first real boyfriend, mental health stuff, a trip to Mexico)—I kept wanting Julia to either really hone in on the mystery with her sister OR explore her grief and hopes for her own life more fully, something to make the plot feel tighter to me. Maybe it just needed to cover less time. At any rate, as a character-driven reader, Julia’s emotionally complicated journey held my attention even when the plot meandered. Her desire for something bigger in life as well as the reveal that people aren’t necessarily what they seem will resonate with teen readers. 

 

ISBN-13: 9781524700485
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 10/17/2017

Book Review: Sparrow by Sarah Moon

Publisher’s description

ra6Sparrow has always had a difficult time making friends. She would always rather have stayed home on the weekends with her mother, an affluent IT Executive at a Manhattan bank, reading, or watching the birds, than playing with other kids. And that’s made school a lonely experience for her. It’s made LIFE a lonely experience.

But when the one teacher who really understood her — Mrs. Wexler, the school librarian, a woman who let her eat her lunch in the library office rather than hide in a bathroom stall, a woman who shared her passion for novels and knew just the ones she’d love — is killed in a freak car accident, Sparrow’s world unravels and she’s found on the roof of her school in an apparent suicide attempt.

With the help of an insightful therapist, Sparrow finally reveals the truth of her inner life. And it’s here that she discovers an outlet in Rock & Roll music…

 

Amanda’s thoughts

sparrowA middle grade book that deals with mental health? YES, please.

14-year-old Brooklyn 8th grader Sparrow has debilitating social anxiety. She has always dealt with her fear and shyness by flying away—not literally, of course, but pretty close. She pictures herself off with the birds, away from everything on land that makes her uncomfortable. When she’s found on the school roof during one of her flying episodes, everyone assumes it’s a suicide attempt and won’t hear otherwise. Sparrow begins therapy with Dr. Katz. At first, she’s reluctant to open up, worried Dr. Katz will think she’s crazy. It doesn’t help that her mother isn’t thrilled that she’s in therapy and thinks of it as White Girl Stuff (Sparrow and her mother are black). But slowly, Sparrow begins to talk to Dr. Katz, admitting to herself and her mother how much good the therapy is doing. School is still hard for her, especially because her beloved favorite teacher, Mrs. Wexler, the librarian, died earlier in the year. Sparrow had spent every lunch since 5th grade in the library, finding solace in both the library and Mrs. Wexler. Everything since her death has been harder. But therapy is helping, as is her new (and intense) interest in music. Dr. Katz introduces her to older punk and indie music (think Pixies, Sonic Youth, Patti Smith), and Sparrow revels in the connective and redemptive power of music. Dr. Katz pushes Sparrow to learn how to deal with all of the things that make her want to fly away, but it’s really through a month-long girls’ rock music camp that Sparrow begins to find her voice and overcome her fears.

 

This is a fantastic book for older middle grade readers. Sparrow, though silent through much of school, is such a profoundly real character. Readers get to know her well far sooner than her peers get to know her. She’s funny and bitingly clever. Her passion for books and music will send readers seeking out the bands they’ve maybe never heard of or delighting in seeing their favorite titles or songs as part of the story. Dr. Katz, Mrs. Wexler, and Mrs. Smith, the English teacher, are wonderfully supportive, compassionate adults who see Sparrow for who she is. Though her mother is wary of therapy and Dr. Katz, she loves Sparrow and wants the best for her. She may not totally understand what her daughter is going through or how to best help her, but she’s open to doing whatever seems right for Sparrow and desperately wants to be a part of Sparrow’s very private inner life. Well-written, emotionally powerful, and packed with stand-out characters, this middle grade title is a must for every library. A welcome addition to the small field of middle grade books that address mental health. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781338032581
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date: 10/10/2017