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The Messy, Complicated In-Between, a guest post by Katie Cotugno

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Twelve or thirteen years ago I heard a piece on NPR about an engaged couple who were members of a conservative religious group and weren’t allowed to have any physical contact at all until the day they were married. I’ll be honest: I was expecting a pretty bleak courtship story, bracing myself for some kind of patriarchal purity culture BS, but when I heard the host interview the husband-to-be, I have to admit the whole thing actually sounded the tiniest bit romantic. Here were two people who’d gotten to know each other intimately—who’d had deep conversations and shared secrets and legitimately fallen in love—without ever so much as holding hands.

“Right now,” the man said, “the basic complication is that we can’t touch each other.”

Oh, I thought, my ears perking up. I reached for a pen and scrawled the quote in my notebook, where I’d return to it again and again over the years as I tried to figure out what to do with it. That is a very good complication.

Amazon.com: You Say It First (9780062674128): Cotugno, Katie: Books

The two main characters in my new book, You Say It First, live eight hours apart—Meg in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Colby in rural Ohio—but they may as well have grown up in completely different dimensions. Meg’s headed for the Ivy League; Colby barely graduated high school. Meg’s laptop is covered with campaign stickers, while Colby is less than convinced by cheery idealism. They “meet” when she dials his parents’ landline from her job at a voter registration call center: they bicker, they banter, he bests her, she calls him back.  They fall in love—or something like it—over the course of long, meandering, sometimes tough conversations that challenge them both to rethink certain inalienable truths about themselves and what they believe. Their relationship thrives in that strange, liminal space, an invisible phone line tethering them together.

Grounding those feelings in the reality of their day-to-day lives—their families, their friends, their communities—proves to be a little bit trickier.

“I don’t know,” I said, when I first started toying with the idea of a project that touched, however lightly, on politics. “I’m not interested in writing a book about, like, two white people debating abortion. And I definitely don’t want to write about how we might believe different things, but deep down in our purest hearts we’re all really the same and all opinions are created equal.”

Because here’s the thing: I don’t think all opinions are created equal. I don’t even think all opinions are valid. And I certainly don’t believe in meeting in the middle for the sake of keeping an uneasy peace.

But I do think that part of being a human is navigating messy, complicated relationships with people whose experiences are different than yours are. And part of growing up is realizing you don’t know everything you thought you knew.

That was the problem with Meg, Colby laments at one point in the novel. He could never manage to feel just one thing about her at a time.

I think that’s a very good complication, too.

I’ve been thinking about Meg and Colby a lot lately, both as I try to figure out how to launch a book during a pandemic and as I’ve watched that first basic complication—we can’t touch each other—become literal in a way that never occurred to me as I was writing. The last few months have laid bare all the fissures in our society we try so hard to ignore, drawing a big fat circle around the ways in which the random luck of people’s circumstances dictates their privilege, their prospects, the sturdiness of their safety nets, their chances of survival.

I knew I was writing a book for an election year. I didn’t realize I was writing a book for a quarantine, too.

Here is what I know to be true: we’re not all the same deep down in our purest hearts, and we’re not all weathering this storm from the same boat. But as we say goodbye to our old world and wait for the new one to reveal itself, I wonder if there’s a way for us to reach out and connect with each other in this strange place in between.

Meet Katie Cotugno

Katie Cotugno is the New York Times bestselling author of Top Ten99 Days9 Days and 9 Nights, and How to Love. She is also the coauthor, with Candace Bushnell, of Rules for Being a Girl. Katie studied writing, literature, and publishing at Emerson College and received her MFA in fiction at Lesley University. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee whose work has appeared in Iowa ReviewMississippi Review, and Argestes, among others. She lives in Boston with her husband, Tom. You can visit Katie online at www.katiecotugno.com.

Find Katie’s book at Frugal Bookstore and wherever books are sold.

About You Say It First

You Say It First

An addictive, irresistible YA novel about two teens from different worlds who fall for each other after a voter registration call turns into a long-distance romance—from Katie Cotugno, the New York Times bestselling author of 99 Days. Perfect for fans of Mary H.K. Choi, Robin Benway, and Nicola Yoon.

One conversation can change everything.

Meg has her entire life set up perfectly: she and her best friend, Emily, plan to head to Cornell together in the fall, and she works at a voter registration call center in her Philadelphia suburb. But everything changes when one of those calls connects her to a stranger from small-town Ohio.

Colby is stuck in a rut, reeling from a family tragedy and working a dead-end job. The last thing he has time for is some privileged rich girl preaching the sanctity of the political process. So he says the worst thing he can think of and hangs up.

But things don’t end there.…

That night on the phone winds up being the first in a series of candid, sometimes heated, always surprising conversations that lead to a long-distance friendship and then—slowly—to something more. Across state lines and phone lines, Meg and Colby form a once-in-a-lifetime connection. But in the end, are they just too different to make it work?

You Say It First is a propulsive, layered novel about how sometimes the person who has the least in common with us can be the one who changes us most.

ISBN-13: 9780062674128
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/16/2020
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

Book Review: Saving Savannah by Tonya Bolden

Publisher’s description

From acclaimed author Tonya Bolden comes the story of a teen girl becoming a woman on her own terms against the backdrop of widespread social change in the early 1900s.

Savannah Riddle is lucky. As a daughter of an upper class African American family in Washington D.C., she attends one of the most rigorous public schools in the nation—black or white—and has her pick among the young men in her set. But lately the structure of her society—the fancy parties, the Sunday teas, the pretentious men, and shallow young women—has started to suffocate her.

Then Savannah meets Lloyd, a young West Indian man from the working class who opens Savannah’s eyes to how the other half lives. Inspired to fight for change, Savannah starts attending suffragist lectures and socialist meetings, finding herself drawn more and more to Lloyd’s world.

Set against the backdrop of the press for women’s rights, the Red Summer, and anarchist bombings, Saving Savannah is the story of a girl and the risks she must take to be the change in a world on the brink of dramatic transformation.

Amanda’s thoughts

17-year-old Savannah is hearing a lot of messages in 1919 Washington D.C. In the wake of WWI and the Spanish Flu, “onward and upward” is the motto of the times. She also hears a lot about being “a credit to the race” and “lifting as we climb.” Politically, there is a lot going on, particularly around the issue of women’s suffrage and the role that black women are allowed to play in that (and the issue of whether white women are considering them at all). Savannah feels a bit frustrated and disenchanted, embarrassed by the excess of the social circles her family is part of and curious about the wider world. Her uncle, a photographer, encourages her to find a challenge, a passion, a purpose. He urges her to stop just being an observer. When Savannah learns about a local school for girls, she begins to get involved helping there and, through her new contacts (many of whom are considered to be a “more radical element”), has her eyes opened to not just what is happening around the country but to what is happening in her very own city.

This book is a mix of a very character-driven story for about 50% or more of the book, then a very action-driven story for the remainder. I really loved this book. In fact, I’ve been in a horrible reading slump for most of the past few weeks (thanks, depression!) and have started and abandoned a giant stack of books as I try to decide what to read and review here for TLT. I got lost in Savannah’s world and loved watching her awakening. Her best friend Yolande is always there, being horrified at Savannah’s choice of company, admonishing her for being around “common” people who are not their kind of people. Savannah’s own parents are less than pleased with her choices, so it takes real strength for Savannah to strike out on her own and make real strides to educate herself and expand her views. As D.C. and other major cities erupt in riots, bombings, lynchings, and fires, Savannah finds herself more involved in the action than she ever could have dreamed.

This complex story will put readers right in the middle of all the action and introduces a wide swath of ideas and perspectives. Set just over 100 years ago, the quest for social justice and real change makes for a powerful and still (always) relevant topic. An author’s note, historical photographs, notes, and sources all provide further context for Savannah’s story and her awakening in this engaging and unique read.

ISBN-13: 9781681198040
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 01/14/2020

Book Review: Unpresidented: A Biography of Donald Trump by Martha Brockenbrough

Publisher’s description

unpresidentedA riveting, meticulously researched, and provocative biography of Donald J. Trump from the author of Alexander Hamilton, Revolutionary.

Born into a family of privilege and wealth, he was sent to military school at the age of 13. After an unremarkable academic career, he joined the family business in real estate and built his fortune. His personal brand: sex, money and power. From no-holds-barred reality TV star to unlikely candidate, Donald J. Trump rose to the highest political office: President of the United States of America.

Learn fascinating details about his personal history, including:

-Why Trump’s grandfather left Germany and immigrated to America
-Why Woodie Guthrie wrote a song criticizing Trump’s father
-How Trump’s romance with Ivana began—and ended
-When Trump first declared his interest in running for President

Discover the incredible true story of America’s 45th President: his questionable political and personal conduct, and his unprecedented rise to power.

Richly informed by original research and illustrated throughout with photographs and documents, Unpresidented is a gripping and important read.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

An unexpected sick day home with my kiddo provided me the uninterrupted time I needed to read this new biography, aimed at teens, about Donald Trump. While anyone who has paid at least a little attention to politics the last few years will know at least a general outline of what has gone on with Trump’s presidency and his policies, it is the deep dive into his younger years that may prove most revealing. It all certainly illuminates how he got where he is. Brockenbrough looks at Trumps complicated relationship with facts and misinformation, examines patterns of behavior, and shows how his many business and personal choices inform his character. She tracks his family’s rise to wealth starting with his grandfather, who eventually found fortune in the hotel and restaurant businesses, and then outlining his father’s business interests. In the late 1930s, one newspaper called Fred Trump “the Henry Ford of the home-building industry” (pg 32). Trump’s father established their name as a brand, bringing Donald aboard real estate deals starting at a young age.

 

Building on the wealth and business practices of his family (and relying on them to bail him out repeatedly and help hook him up with deals that didn’t always look above board), Donald hustled to make deals, negotiations, and shrewd decisions that would help further the Trump brand as well as establish him as one of the wealthiest men in the country (even if that “fact” was an embellished truth). Chapters delve into his business scandals, financial risks and gambles, the constant wheeling and dealing he was doing to make deals happen, as well as his history of racism and discrimination. Many times throughout his career (prior to the presidential run and win), Trump lies outright about things big and small. It doesn’t matter if they are can be verified or easily discounted—things like his net worth or even locations of property or number of floors in a building—he always presented and believed his own version of the truth. Following his business career lets readers see that he was not only a man on the rise, but he was also a slumlord, a liar, and an entertainer. He just wanted people to talk and think about him. Trump loved the spotlight, and this love grew as he entered the world of reality television and consumer goods.

 

Never slowed by his bankruptcies or his staggering debt, Trump continued to plow forward, eventually running for the presidency, despite no prior political or military experience, figuring the press would be good for his brand. From here, we see more of his contentious relationship with the media, his disregard for facts, research, and data, and his desire to be seen as powerful and important. The chapters on his presidency detail the many ways he was unprepared to take office, his Russian connections, and the scandals, firings, and policies that have defined his administration thus far.  Backmatter includes a timeline of milestones both before and during his presidency, brief biographies of campaign staff, policy advisers, and his legal team, Russian connections, extensive endnotes, a biography, and an index.

 

This well-researched, thorough, and immensely readable biography helps make clear how Trump got to where he is. Brockenbrough uses the facts of Trump’s life to show a deceitful, manipulative, fortunate, and unprincipled man’s rise to fame and power. For me, personally, I was much more interested in the first 2/3 or so of the book that tell a story that I was less familiar with—Trump’s family, his younger life, the details of all of this business dealings/failings—than I was in the chapters dealing with his presidency, mainly because I have ingested such huge amounts of information about his politics and character since he was elected. I hope this biography is widely available to young readers, who need to know exactly who this man is. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the author
ISBN-13: 9781250308030
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication date: 12/04/2018

#ReadForChange: Courage in the face of a “Dystopian Reality” in Jennie Liu’s Girls on the Line

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 Jennie Liu join us for a conversation about China’s One-Child Policy, political action, abortion, and Liu’s 2018 book, Girls on the Line

 

 

 

“The only effect I ardently long to produce by my writings, is that those who read them should be better able to imagine and to feel the pains and the joys of those who differ from them in everything but the broad fact of being struggling, erring human creatures.”

– George Eliot (the pen name of Mary Anne Evans)

 

Girls on the Line: A Beautifully-Crafted “Empathy Delivery System”

 

download-3Last spring, I had the pleasure of being on a panel with the wonderful Gayle Forman.  We were discussing the significance of fiction in this particular historical moment, and Gayle made a comment that I’ll never forget.  She described novels as compact and very effective “empathy delivery systems”. This, to my mind, is a perfect description of the power of great stories – they bring us into deep encounter with experiences that, without the novel, we almost certainly would never have. Great novels allow us to spend time, for a while, imagining what it might feel like to be a person whose experience may be enormously distant from our own in many ways. But these great stories also remind us how much we share much in common with the people whose lives and experiences may be profoundly different – the joy of lasting friendships, the anxiety of taking on a new job and moving to a new place, the heartbreak of falling in love with the wrong person.

 

This is precisely what I love about Jennie Liu’s debut novel, Girls on the Line. It’s the story of Luli and Yun, two orphans living in Gujiao, China in 2009. When they age out of the orphanage, both move into factory jobs, working alongside other young women “on the line”. Yun launches into her new life with gusto – loving the independence of earning her own money, living in a dormitory with other factory workers, buying the things she wants, and dating her exciting new boyfriend, Yong. Luli, more tentative and skeptical of this new life, grows anxious and overwhelmed when her friend Yun announces that she’s pregnant with Yong’s child, and she intends to keep it. When Yun disappears, it’s up to Luli to find her, and to find the courage that she never knew she had.

 

Set against the backdrop of China’s One Child Policy (which ended in 2015), and inside the expanding world of a Chinese factory labor system fueled by young women, Girls on the Line does more than bring readers on an exhilarating journey filled with twists-and-turns. It also offers an eye-opening introduction to those of us with little understanding of Chinese government policy, or of the circumstances for production of the Chinese-made products that North Americans buy every day. Most importantly, though, Luli and Yun’s story — as a beautifully-crafted “empathy delivery system” — reminds readers of all the things teenagers share in common, no matter where we live, what kind of work we do, or who we love.

 

“Engaged in the World”: An Interview with Jennie Liu

 

download-4MARIE: Girls on the Line is such a unique book – it tells a story unlike anything I’ve read in YA. What made you decide that this novel needed to be written, and that you should be the one to write it? 

 

JENNIE: I was fishing around for a novel idea and I remembered two girls who were adopted from China who lived in my neighborhood years ago. Their parents worked very hard to connect them with their birth culture. When I was growing up, I didn’t see any books or novels that featured Chinese girls. I thought, What are these girls going to read? Now I see that there are more and more novels about Asian-American experience and historical Chinese novels, but I wanted to write something about modern China, set completely in China. I kept wondering what happens to the girls who don’t get adopted, and that was the germ of my novel.

 

As I researched who doesn’t get adopted and began to understand the ins and outs of the One-Child Policy, and the unexpected implications and consequences, I knew this was my novel.  I was struck by how abortion is not controversial in China, even pushed or forced at times by the government, whereas here in the States, there are moves to block it. People have different individual views, and the idea of government taking away women’s reproductive choices just outrages me.

 

My editor, Amy Fitzgerald at Carolrhoda Lab, called GIRLS ON THE LINE a dystopian reality in our first chat.  I knew then that she truly understood the novel and why it could be relevant to readers outside China. Tradition and policy can have chilling social consequences, and often keep disadvantaged people trapped in their place. Even here in the States, plays are being made toward a dystopian reality—legislation aimed at blocking women’s right to make personal choices, discriminatory gerrymandering, pulling back on environmental protections in favor of business interests, etc, etc.

 

MARIE: In the face of these plays toward “dystopian reality,” what actions are you taking to build a more just society?

 

JENNIE: A large part of what makes me feel really engaged in the world is having chosen a career (my other one) in a helping profession that allows me to meet and interact with people from all walks of life. Outside of that, I’ve found volunteering in my immediate community best fits my need to address change. My friends and our children have a regular volunteer group and I like to focus on human-related issues such as homelessness and food insecurity. When one is distressed about the state of affairs, the mind is soothed by bagging food packs for children for three hours.

 

On the larger political level, besides donating money to organizations, this year I’ve been working on Postcard to Voters where I been writing friendly postcards to voters in close, key districts, by myself and in groups.  It’s been a quick and immediate way to deal with frustration and anxiety about the election.

 

MARIE: For readers who also want to take action, what’s your advice?

 

JENNIE: For students, I recommend doing volunteer work in your community where you can learn about local problems and issues. You’ll meet mentors who can teach you how to organize and help at the grassroots level. And of course, being counted is always important—as a voter, a body in a protest, a caller/writer to officials, and especially, encouraging friends who may be less inclined to vote or participate.

 

“Implications and Consequences”: Jennie’s excellent recommendations for learning more.

 

One Child: The story of China’s Most Radical Experiment by Mei Fong (You can hear her discuss the reason she wrote the book here.)

One Child

Leftover Women: The resurgence of Gender Inequality in China by Leta Hong Fincher

Leftover Women

The Common Secret: My Journey as an Abortion Doctor by Susan Wicklund

common secret

Trapped: A film by Dawn Porter an Independent Lens/PBS documentary about U.S. reproductive health clinics fighting to remain open.

trapped

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

 

half the sky

Want to take action? Jennie has some suggestions.

 

Half the Sky Movement- Inspired by the book, this movement aims to ignite the change needed to put an end to oppression of women and girls worldwide. Check out their documentary and interactive game, and learn how to get involved here.

download-2

Student United Way – local chapters make it easy to find volunteer projects that are meaningful to you.

 

NOW (National Organization for Women) and Planned Parenthood make it easy to keep abreast of issues and immediate political actions.

 

If you want to join Jennie in writing postcards to voters in the next election season, you can learn more about the movement and sign up to get involved here.

Postcards to Voters (1)

Win a copy of Girls on the Line, just off the presses!

This new release is certain to inspire readers to learn more and take action! Here’s a link to the giveaway. We’ll be announcing the winner on December 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.

 

#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.

 

 

 

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

tltheader

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.

Book Review: Hope Nation: YA Authors Share Personal Moments of Inspiration edited by Rose Brock

Publisher’s description

hope nationHope is a decision, but it is a hard one to recognize in the face of oppression, belittlement, alienation, and defeat. To help embolden hope, here is a powerhouse collection of essays and personal stories that speak directly to teens and all YA readers. Featuring Angie Thomas, Marie Lu, James Dashner, Nicola Yoon, David Levithan, Libba Bray, Jason Reynolds, Renée Ahdieh, and many more!

“The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.”—Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

We all experience moments when we struggle to understand the state of the world, when we feel powerless and—in some cases—even hopeless. The teens of today are the caretakers of tomorrow, and yet it’s difficult for many to find joy or comfort in such a turbulent society. But in trying times, words are power.

Some of today’s most influential young adult authors come together in this highly personal collection of essays and original stories that offer moments of light in the darkness, and show that hope is a decision we all can make.

Like a modern day Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul or Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff for TeensHope Nation acknowledges the pain and offers words of encouragement.

Authors include: Atia Abawi, Renee Ahdieh, Libba Bray, Howard Bryant, Ally Carter, Ally Condie, James Dashner, Christina Diaz Gonzales, Gayle Forman, Romina Garber, I. W. Gregario, Kate Hart, Bendan Kiely, David Levithan, Alex London, Marie Lu, Julie Murphy, Jason Reynolds, Aisha Saeed, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Jenny Torres Sanchez, Jeff Zentner, and Nicola Yoon.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Let me first just say that I really wish the summary for this book didn’t compare this to inspirational books like Chicken Soup or Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. For one, I’m not sure how relevant those comps are for actual modern teens, and for another thing, I see those things and immediately think, GACK, no thank you. While this is a book focused on hope and encouragement, it, to me, is nothing like those titles. It is far better. Thank goodness.

 

With the exception of Levithan’s fictional piece based on being at the Women’s March in Atlanta, the rest of this collection is essays from a wide variety of authors. Libba Bray writes about the car accident that changed her life and the hope she finds, loses, and learns will come around again. Angie Thomas discusses the current political climate, the publication of her book The Hate U Give, and three particular encounters after its publication. Ally Condie talks about, among other things, depression and the things and people that help with hope. Marie Lu writes about moving from China to America and survival and adaptation. Jeff Zentner talks about the hope that lies in young Book People and the power of stories. Nicola Yoon recounts the challenges of being an interracial couple. Kate Hart explores her combative relationship with hope. Gayle Forman takes on the topics of travel, hope, and life after 9/11. Christina Diaz Gonzalez talks about baseball, being the only Hispanic girl in her small North Florida town, and her Cuban grandmother. Atia Abawi writes about her dream of being a journalist, persistence, roadblocks, and believing in yourself. Alex London talks about the 90s, prom, drag, and the gender binary. Howard Bryant writes about his newspaper internship in a small Pennsylvania farm town and the lessons he learned there. Ally Carter reveals how long she kept her desire to be a writer a secret. Romina Garber recalls her move from Argentina to the US as a child and what it meant to be an immigrant. Renee Ahdieh  talks identity and how it shaped her. Aisha Saeed writes about apologies and being an American Muslim. Jenny Torres Sanchez discusses growing up afraid of her father and the abuse that he suffered as a child. Nic Stone talks about being African American in this post-2016 election era. Julie Murphy finds home and hope in unexpected places. I.W. Gregorio shares how a repressed teen grew up to become a urologist, and discusses breaking taboos and getting rid of awkwardness. Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely have a conversation about their tour for All American Boys and the conversations and kids who have stuck with them.

 

My favorite thing about anthologies has always been finding new authors to explore, and this collection, that offers so many personal stories and chances for readers to connect on a variety of shared experiences and interests, will surely point young readers toward new names. I am automatically repelled from anything billed as “inspirational” (it’s just how I’m built), but this look at hope and connection will show readers that they are not alone in their experiences, feelings, or concerns. Definitely worth picking up, even if just read to the pieces by your favorites. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781524741679
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 02/27/2018

#SJYALit: The Lunar Chronicles as a Reflection of Current U.S. Political Climate, a guest post by Emily Keyes

Today as part of our Social Justice in YA Lit series, Emily Keyes discusses authoritarianism, othering, and The Lunar Chronicles.

lunarchronicles3

When I first started brainstorming this blog post, I planned to recommend a number of dystopian Young Adult novels whose plots exhibited the issues of authoritarian governments, racism, sexism, and other-ing in believable ways, in order to help teens better understand the current political climate and stay motivated to resist. I started what I thought would be a month-long reading binge of different series, from Divergent to Pretties to Unwound, but upon finishing each book, I kept coming back to what I feel is, to date, the best dystopian series, YA or otherwise, that I have ever read: Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles.

lunarchronicles2

Precisely what makes Meyer’s series so fantastic is that at the current moment, none of the things in her books seem remotely unbelievable. Both Lunar Chronicles’ world has: an authoritarian government, racism, sexism, classism, and economic crisis, all issues we are currently dealing with in the US.

When I began reading Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, it was right when the US election was in full swing, and the characters, plot, and general state of the world built by Meyer’s imagination so closely mirrored my own that at times, it was a little spooky. What follows is a brief summary of the ways that Meyers represents authoritarian governments, racism, and other-ing, and how these representations can inform and inspire readers to fight against these injustices.

The character of Queen Levana Blackburn, the villain of the series, and, in my opinion, one of the most vividly crafted authoritarian leaders I’ve ever read, helped me better understand the motivations behind many of the political actions Donald Trump has made before and since entering the presidential office. Both Levana and Donald Trump have two main motivations: power and adoration.

lunarchronicles

Trump and Levana have a deep-seated need to be loved by their people, and are unwilling to admit that anyone would be unhappy under their rule. When faced with evidence of citizens’ discontent, however, they are both so shocked that they either deny it or let the distress of such a realisation begin to crumble their composure. Just look at how upset Trump was after the Women’s March. If we can continue to show our discontent through marches, protests, calls to legislature, we can affect distress such that our very own American Queen Levana starts to falter, and perhaps America’s Linh Cinder can step in.

The issues of racism and other-ing Meyers builds into the Lunar Chronicles world also mirror those same issues in the US. Earthen society differentiates between humans, androids and cyborgs. Only the former is considered normal and worthy of anything approaching respectful treatment and rights.

Androids are programed to be ‘useful’ above all else, making them naturally subservient to humans such that they often spend their lives as servants, prostitutes, or escorts. The main android in the series, Iko, has a glitch in her programming that gives her a vivacious personality and a kind heart, but she is still often treated, by both her friends and outsiders, as though she were somehow separate, made only to serve those around her.

Like androids, cyborgs in Earth’s Eastern Commonwealth also have no free will and are owned like property The series’ main character, Linh Cinder, experiences substantial prejudice because she is a cyborg. She is at risk of being drafted for plague cure testing, at the end of which she would be killed, her foot is taken away by her owner, and both doctors and friends handle her control panel without her permission. The treatment of both Iko and Cinder’s characters at various points in the series reminded me of the way women are often treated in society, as though we are objects undeserving of rights and capable of being owned or touched without our permission.

Lunars, those from the moon colony but residing on Earth, are perhaps the group receiving the most prejudice and injustice. Lunars cannot reveal their origin on Earth lest they risk being arrested and sent back to their colony to face no end of unimaginable punishments at the hands of Queen Levana. This reminded me of the current battle many immigrants, especially those from Latin America, face with US immigration forces attempting to deport innocent residents without cause.

The Lunar Chronicles’ depiction of the unequal treatment of beings resulting from differences in their gender, genetic makeup and origin perfectly mirrors the continuing issues with sexism, racism and other-ing in the US. Though there is no Happily Ever After at the end of the series, and no clean and tidy resolution of the issues relating to Iko and Cinder’s rights, the series’ end reminded me, and I hope it will remind other YA readers, that sexism, racism and other-ing cannot be defeated in day, but instead requires working together and making a continuous commitment to reversing the opinions, legislature and societal structure that supports inequality and the subjugation of certain groups of people.

Meet Our Guest Blogger

Emily Keyes is an avid reader of YA fiction finishing her Masters of Science in Digital Library Management at the University of Sheffield in Sheffield, England. Originally from Maryland, she hopes to work as a Special Collections Librarian for part of her career, using her previous degree in Medieval Studies to preserve and organise medieval manuscripts. She then hopes to work as a School Media Specialist in international schools. As an early-career librarian, she’s always looking for advice and recommendations about jobs, publications, and good books, and you can find her on Twitter @eckeyes.

DVD Review: Political Animals + Giveaway

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book (or, in this case, DVD), finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, which originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of School Library Journal.

 

political animalsPolitical Animals

87 min and 53 sec., Dist. by the Video Project. 2016. $89.

Gr 9 Up–The personal is political in this examination of the hard-fought progress for LGBT rights. This engrossing documentary focuses on the work of the first four openly gay state legislators in California, all lesbians. Pioneering politicians Sheila Kuehl, Carole Migden, Jackie Goldberg, and Christine Kehoe (all elected between 1994 and 2000) advocated for laws protecting LGBT people and expanding civil rights. The film looks at the bills these groundbreaking legislators authored, such as one adding sexual orientation to the list of protected identities in schools. Included are extensive archival footage from legislative meetings from the 1990s and early 2000s, interviews with the women, information on their history of activism, and a reunion of the four. Fierce advocates for equal protection, the women also discuss the importance of straight allies and how it felt to listen to their colleagues fight against fundamental rights these four were being denied. The profile ends with the victory of marriage equality in 2015. The state assembly sessions scenes highlight the women’s impassioned speeches and the heated debates often marked by hostility from other legislators. Listening to testimonies and watching bills (particularly the one protecting LGBT students) fail repeatedly reveal just how hard the fight has been. This is a compelling and enlightening exploration of trailblazing women and their lawmaking. VERDICT: Highly recommended for public library collections where documentaries are popular and for high school history curricula on LGBTQ rights, pioneering women, and political movements.

 

Head on over to the Rafflecopter to enter to win this DVD. If you’re a librarian or a teacher, this would be a good addition to your collection! Ends Thursday, March 2. US ONLY. 

Sunday Reflections: Muslim Voices

Some of my favorite people on the planet.

Some of my favorite people on the planet.

If you know me at all, you know I am quite fond of my library minions. And when I say “my library minions,” I mean the teens and young adults I have gotten to know over the past many years working in high school and public libraries in central Minnesota. I’ve since moved and am not currently in a library, but I formed lifelong bonds with those minions. We talk and text. They come visit me. I’ve written college recommendations for them, and scholarship letters, and been a job reference. We’ve had endless lunches and dinners and coffee dates. They turn to me for advice. I am honored that many of them consider me a mentor. I love these kids. Fiercely. 

 

 

The flag of Somalia.

The flag of Somalia.

A large portion of my beloved minions are Muslims from Somalia. Minnesota’s Somali population is the largest in the United States. The area I lived in for the past decade, St. Cloud, has a HUGE Somali population. My young friends are amazing. They’re college students, tutors, grad students, volunteers, activists, med school students, writers, artists, and history-makers. They want to be doctors, lawyers, judges, authors, teachers, and therapists. As you might guess, when the travel ban was issued, I started furiously texting with some of my friends. A few of them sent me their thoughts, which I share with you here today.

 

 

From Sahra:

I feel like Trump has yet to comprehend that immigrants are an asset to society. In fact, they have always been. From early settlement in the thirteen colonies, to the era of industrialization, we have learned that it was foreigners who built the U.S.A from the ground up.

This country was established by people who escaped religious persecution in Europe and here we are denying immigrants access to a new life simply due to their religion.

We keep hearing “It’s not a Muslim ban, it’s not a Muslim ban,” but what do you call it when the only thing the 7 countries have in common is that (an astonishing majority) believe that “There is no God but Allah, and Mohamed (Peace and blessings be upon him) is his messenger”?

Fun fact: The immigrants I have had the pleasure to meet are so eager to start working as soon as they step foot in this country. I mean surely if they are working they are also paying taxes, and if they are paying taxes surely the government is benefiting.

But hey, what do I know?

Aside from that, I’m flabbergasted that a man with so little values, so little support, and so little common sense has become the president of the United States of America. At this point, we are lucky if we make it out alive by the time he gets impeached.

 

From Saido:

Do you know what it is like living in fear? Looking at everything from a different perspective. Analyzing every movement a person makes and thinking, what do they mean? Are they bullying me? I live like that every single day. I live in fear that someone might jump out of nowhere and attack me for no reason. It’s sad we live in a society where people are afraid to be themselves, and if they decided to become themselves, they become the target of a hate crime.

When I first heard about the ban, I thought it was a joke. Then I saw it on the news—people who were actually being held in the airport because they come from a country that the president thinks is a threat to this nation. I am a person who is from one of the countries the president now bans from entering the United States. I feel sad because I am an individual who has lived in this country for twelve years and I have not seen or heard about the threat my people are causing to this nation. It took me awhile to process this because,I have never heard of crimes that these countries that were put a ban have committed. On the other hand, I am glad to see people who are standing up for the rights of the refugees and also for the rights of those who are mistreated. I am a proud American citizen and I am thankful for the opportunity this country has given me.

 

From Khadija:

As citizens of the United States of America we enjoy a rare privilege. One that is not available to many people around the world. This is a privilege that I am acutely aware of at all times as a citizen with the freedom to express her thoughts and fight for what I think is right in the form of peaceful protests without fear of repercussions or violence. I want people who are oppressed to have the opportunity for a better life regardless of what religion they follow. It is my responsibility not just as a US citizen, but as a citizen of Earth to fight for peace and a world without violence and ignorance. Our best shot at unity is to advocate for peace.