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Book Review: Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough

Publisher’s description

blood water paintHer mother died when she was twelve, and suddenly Artemisia Gentileschi had a stark choice: a life as a nun in a convent or a life grinding pigment for her father’s paint.

She chose paint.

By the time she was seventeen, Artemisia did more than grind pigment. She was one of Rome’s most talented painters, even if no one knew her name. But Rome in 1610 was a city where men took what they wanted from women, and in the aftermath of rape Artemisia faced another terrible choice: a life of silence or a life of truth, no matter the cost.

He will not consume
my every thought.
I am a painter.
I will paint.

Joy McCullough’s bold novel in verse is a portrait of an artist as a young woman, filled with the soaring highs of creative inspiration and the devastating setbacks of a system built to break her. McCullough weaves Artemisia’s heartbreaking story with the stories of the ancient heroines, Susanna and Judith, who become not only the subjects of two of Artemisia’s most famous paintings but sources of strength as she battles to paint a woman’s timeless truth in the face of unspeakable and all-too-familiar violence.

I will show you
what a woman can do.


Amanda’s thoughts

17-year-old Artemisia understands the way the world works: women are a beauty for consumption by men. There are many expectations for women and few freedoms. She understands that girls are prey, that they are seen as things and possessions. Artemisia, ostensibly an apprentice to her painter father, though clearly far more skilled than he, begins to paint biblical women she knows intimately from her mother’s stories, knowing a man could never capture the truth of the story the way a woman could. Her mother’s stories made clear the heavy burden of the inescapable male gaze, but they also made clear Artemisia’s (and all women’s) right to be outraged, to act, to push back, to speak up. These woman from her mother’s stories, Judith and Susanna, come to be her strength and solace when Artemisia is raped by Agostina Tassi, her painting tutor. Artemisia tells her father of the rape and they take Tino to trial. But, of course, it is not Tino on trial, but Artemisia’s virtue. 

Both the stories from Artemisia’s mother and Artemisia’s own story ask the readers to bear witness, to see the truth, to hear the voices, to understand the strength in the stories. The stories are the weapons, the armor, the refuge, and the map. This intensely passionate and powerful exploration of women’s lives, stories, truths, and power is a masterpiece. 


Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780735232112
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 03/06/2018

#SVYALit Book Review: Rani Patel in Full Effect by Sonia Patel

Publisher’s description

raniAlmost seventeen, Rani Patel appears to be a kick-ass Indian girl breaking cultural norms as a hip-hop performer in full effect. But in truth, she’s a nerdy flat-chested nobody who lives with her Gujarati immigrant parents on the remote Hawaiian island of Moloka’i, isolated from her high school peers by the unsettling norms of Indian culture where “husband is God.” Her parents’ traditionally arranged marriage is a sham. Her dad turns to her for all his needs—even the intimate ones. When Rani catches him two-timing with a woman barely older than herself, she feels like a widow and, like widows in India are often made to do, she shaves off her hair. Her sexy bald head and hard-driving rhyming skills attract the attention of Mark, the hot older customer who frequents her parents’ store and is closer in age to her dad than to her. Mark makes the moves on her and Rani goes with it. He leads Rani into 4eva Flowin’, an underground hip hop crew—and into other things she’s never done. Rani ignores the red flags. Her naive choices look like they will undo her but ultimately give her the chance to discover her strengths and restore the things she thought she’d lost, including her mother.


Amanda’s thoughts

After I finished this book, I was torn between racing upstairs to write about it and racing upstairs to listen to a whole bunch of pre-90s hip hop. Writing now, music later. Yes, yes, y’all.

This review will have spoilers, so if you want to go in not knowing anything beyond what the blurb up there tells you, beware. The bottom line of this review is GO BUY THIS BOOK. Remember how it seems like the only stories that I can actually stick with reading these days (during The Great Reading Slump of 2016) are ones that feel completely fresh and new? Here’s another that fits that bill. I just want to see stories told by people we haven’t seen before and we get that in RANI PATEL IN FULL EFFECT.

Set on Moloka’i, a Hawaiian island, in 1991, Gujarati Indian Rani Patel is about to turn 17. She works at the general store and the restaurant that her parents own and is fairly miserable. Her parents, who had an arranged marriage, have a volatile relationship—her mother is often on the verge of suicide and her father is increasingly distant, relying on Rani to smooth things over for him, which, in addition to being a totally inappropriate expectation of a child, has left Rani and her mom near strangers to each other. She’s senior class president, but, as she points out, only because no one else ran. She has a couple of close-ish guy friends, Pono and Omar, but she isn’t exactly confessing any of her thoughts and feelings to them. She’s crushing on older white dude Mark (like, older-older: he’s 31). She’s also a rapper, known as MC Sutra, who’s constantly writing new lyrics. When we meet Rani, she’s just shaved off all of her hair and just seen her father with his mistress. Her relationship with her father is complex. Like, WAY complex. He’s always treated her as his little princess and lavished her with affection and attention. HERE COME SOME OF THOSE SPOILERS I TOLD YOU ABOUT. He’s also been sexually abusing her. It would be an understatement to say that her eventual relationship with Mark (31-year-old Mark) can be seen as a result of what has happened to her as she seeks some attention and validation from an older man who, much like her father, is a pretty awful person. And (SPOILER), just like her father, Mark rapes her, too.


The thing that seems to be saving Rani is music. She gets an invitation to audition for an underground hip hop crew and is completely surprised when she sees who is already in the crew. Rani pours her heart into the rhymes that she spits, revealing more about herself and the other women in her family. She’s smart and political and a feminist. But she’s also just a kid who has had some really horrific stuff happen to her. It’s hard to watch her make cruddy choices over and over again. There are many lines in my notes that simply note the place I was at in the book followed by UGH. She is a kid who has had horrible stuff go on, had no real support system, had no therapy, and now is replicating many of the same troubling dynamics and not learning who to stay the hell away from. She also blames herself for everything that has happened to her, which resulted in lots of “Oh, Rani, no” in my notes. Through music, she works out some of what she’s feeling and what has happened to her, and to other women in her family. Through music, she finds a community and real friendship, honesty, and support. 


Overall, I found this to be a really interesting look at both a place and characters I haven’t seen in YA. Are we calling books set in the 90s historical fiction? The 1991 setting felt important because of the music that means so much to Rani. Will contemporary teen readers feel the impact of her references? Maybe not. A glossary in the back defines not just Gujarati words but also Hawaiian words, Hawaiian pidgin, and late 80s/early 90s slang. While it took me a little bit to get into the book, and the pacing toward the end felt rushed, once I got into the story, I couldn’t put it down. The author, a psychiatrist, includes a long note at the end saying that, like Rani, she is a Gujarati Indian who lived on Mokoka’i and loved hip hop. She also tells readers that she’s a psychiatrist and talks at length about sexual abuse and how it has affected Rani. She also offers resources. Rani’s story is one of growth and empowerment and is a book I’ll be thinking about for a long time. 


Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781941026502

Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press

Publication date: 10/11/2016

#SVYALit Book Review: Wrecked by Maria Padian

Publisher’s description

wreckedEveryone has heard a different version of what happened that night at MacCallum College. Haley was already in bed when her roommate, Jenny, arrived home shell-shocked from the wild Conundrum House party. Richard heard his housemate Jordan brag about the cute freshman he hooked up with. When Jenny formally accuses Jordan of rape, Haley and Richard find themselves pushed onto opposite sides of the school’s investigation. But conflicting interests fueling conflicting versions of the story may make bringing the truth to light nearly impossible–especially when reputations, relationships, and whole futures are riding on the verdict.

Maria Padian offers a kaleidoscopic view of a sexual assault on a college campus. Wrecked will leave readers thinking about how memory and identity, what’s at stake, and who sits in judgment shape what we all decide to believe about the truth.


Amanda’s thoughts

As you can imagine, this wasn’t an easy read. I read this as a woman in the world, as a mother of a son, as a friend to many, many women who have been raped, as a witness to rape culture, and as a human beyond infuriated by everything that went on with Brock Turner. I would say this book is “timely,” but the sad reality is that it has always been and will always be timely—rapists and rape culture are not going anywhere any time soon—so let’s just say this it totally relevant to all teenage (and adult) lives. And it will make you mad. And it should.


The story is told through the eyes of Richard, who is a housemate of Jordan, the accused rapist, and Haley, whose roommate is Jenny, the victim. In between their chapters, we also see exactly what happened the night in question, doled out in small bits. After being raped, a few days pass, and Jenny calls the crisis line at her school. While she doesn’t go to the police, she does file a formal sexual misconduct complaint at the school–she has her reasons for only wanting to report what happened at school. She chooses Haley to be her advisor–the person who can be with her during all of the interviews and can offer advice and support. Often this role is filled by someone on the faculty or by a lawyer. Jordan chooses Richard for this role—for reasons that really have nothing to do with support. Given that Haley and Richard are just beginning to possibly date, their roles and the “sides” they appear to be on make things even more complicated for them. Jordan challenges the accusation and the bulk of the novel is about finding out what will happen in the case and how the events really unfolded.


By showing us not just the rape and presenting the story not just from the viewpoint of the victim, we are able to more fully see rape culture at work and understand all of the things that can come along with something like this. Jenny must deal with the reaction and desires of her parents and the advice from friends and advocates as well as the assumptions, lies, and harassment that come with the story getting out. We see what others are saying about her or about that night. We see misinterpretations and fuzzy memories and friends making bad choices and others trying to make good ones. We see the people who feel they share some of the blame and those who don’t feel at all responsible for what happened that night. We see the questions asked by people and the questions that get ignored. We see blame, guilt, and facts. And at the heart of everything is truth—something that can easily get buried under lies and blame and foggy memories. 


I hope everyone who reads this remembers that rape victims get to feel how they feel, get to react how they react, and get to move forward in whatever way they feel is best for them. I also hope everyone who reads this walks away mad. If you have somehow managed to make it to this point in life without having watched a friend struggle with the aftermath of a rape (or been a victim yourself), this book will make it perfectly clear how horrible, frustrating, angering, upsetting, and complicated it is. A powerful and important read. 


Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781616206246

Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers

Publication date: 10/04/2016

Rural Poverty and THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES by Mindy McGinnis

Sometimes, it is indeed a small world after all. Shortly after moving to Texas, I learned that author Mindy McGinnis lived just 10 minutes from the very library I had spent the last 10 years working at in the state of Ohio. This town was my home, the place where my children were born. It was also, at the time, the county with the highest poverty rate in all of Ohio. So while there were many aspects about Mindy McGinnis’ THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES that stood out to me, one that stood out most vividly is the depiction of rural poverty. THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES is set in a small, Midwestern town that is ravished by poverty and in my mind’s eye I could picture the very places around this small town that I thought Mindy might be talking about. And while all poverty is bad, each type of poverty has its unique challenges. For example, one of the greatest challenges in rural poverty is transportation. Rural communities are often spread out and don’t have public transportation systems, which makes things like going to a grocery story or doctor’s appointment quite challenging. There are usually fewer options in rural communities, and less options means less competition and less price choices.

Although I currently live in Texas, I work in a public library in another rural Ohio community that is also fighting high poverty. Many of my patrons don’t have the money to buy current technology, and even if they did have the money the truth is, there are still parts of my community that have no providers offering wireless or DSL Internet. Like many other places experiences high rural poverty rates, drug use and drug related deaths are reaching epidemic proportions. So as I mentioned, THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES resonated with me in ways that I can not even begin to describe.

Today, I am honored to host author Mindy McGinni who talks about rural poverty and the part it plays in her newest release, THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES.


The Female of the Species addresses many issues within its pages; rape culture and vigilante justice being the most prevalent. A quieter issue raises it’s head though, one that is easy to overlook, shadowed as it is by the more controversial topics.

Rural poverty.poverty2Much of the time poverty is associated with urban life and that is certainly a truth that cannot go ignored. However, there is another face to poverty, one that looks picturesque. Farms with collapsed barns. Homes where no one lives anymore.

I was born and raised in a rurally impoverished area and now I live and work in one. For fourteen years I have been employed as a library aide at a local school where nearly forty percent of our student body receive free and reduced lunch.

During deer hunting season our attendance list shows double digits of our students are excused for the day to participate… and in most cases it’s not a leisure activity for them. They’re putting much-needed food on the family table.

Food pantry lines are long, faces are pinched, and during the summer months many of our students go without lunch because they depended on the school to provide it. Because it is a sprawling, rural community, people who have to weigh the cost of gas for the drive to the pantry against the food they will get there.

None of the characters in my book suffer the indignity of hunger, because I feel it’s an issue that deserves more space than there was room for within this particular story. But hunger breeds a specific type of desperation that calls for an escape, and this can open the door to darker things.


Upper and middle classes know the need for a vacation. We all feel the cycle of our daily lives triggering stress, causing irritation and anger, and even pushing us towards exhaustion. So we take a “mental health day,” call off work for little or no reason, or we cash in those vacation days and just “get away from it all.”

We have that luxury.

Many of the jobs available to the working poor pay by the hour, and to take a day off means to take a pay cut – one that the budget doesn’t allow for. Vacation time may be possible, but the idea of affording to actually leave is laughable. Escapes from reality are sometimes sought not in a getaway, but in drug use.

There is a major heroin epidemic in my area. We have lost students in my small school district to it. One Twitter user already thanked me for mentioning the epidemic in The Female of the Species, saying that she hopes it may draw more attention to the issue. If it doesn’t, this should; last weekend alone multiple people OD’d, two of them in a mini-van with a four year old.

It’s easy to point fingers, lay blame, criticize and judge. What kind of people do this?

The desperate. The addicted. The hopeless.

Such descriptions aren’t solely the realm of the poor, but there are correlations that can’t be denied.

On my worst days – and we all have bad ones, no matter who we are – I can get upset, feel like giving up or just ducking out of reality for awhile. Stress is present in all our lives, no matter our socioeconomic standing.

But on these days I remind myself that I have food. I have clothes. I have a working car that I can drive to my next school visit, library appearance, or book club talk. I can fill the gas tank and go to work without having to worry about paying for that stop.

The small luxuries of our lives are something that most of us take for granted until they are taken away from us – a cracked phone that doesn’t work, the car being in this shop for a few days, the heat and electric always being on.

When you do have one of those days, think about those who can’t afford a phone at all, and are literally holding their cars together with duct tape. In the past I’ve had students that heat their home with the kitchen stove, and the children sleep with the pets to share body heat.

Spare a thought for them on your bad days, and if you can spare more than that, please do.

Publisher’s Book Description

Alex Craft knows how to kill someone. And she doesn’t feel bad about it. When her older sister, Anna, was murdered three years ago and the killer walked free, Alex uncaged the language she knows best. The language of violence.

While her crime goes unpunished, Alex knows she can’t be trusted among other people, even in her small hometown. She relegates herself to the shadows, a girl who goes unseen in plain sight, unremarkable in the high school hallways.

But Jack Fisher sees her. He’s the guy all other guys want to be: the star athlete gunning for valedictorian with the prom queen on his arm. Guilt over the role he played the night Anna’s body was discovered hasn’t let him forget Alex over the years, and now her green eyes amid a constellation of freckles have his attention. He doesn’t want to only see Alex Craft; he wants to know her.

So does Peekay, the preacher’s kid, a girl whose identity is entangled with her dad’s job, though that does not stop her from knowing the taste of beer or missing the touch of her ex-boyfriend. When Peekay and Alex start working together at the animal shelter, a friendship forms and Alex’s protective nature extends to more than just the dogs and cats they care for.

Circumstances bring Alex, Jack, and Peekay together as their senior year unfolds. While partying one night, Alex’s darker nature breaks out, setting the teens on a collision course that will change their lives forever. (Katherine Tegen Books, September 2016)

More on Rural Poverty and America’s Rural Drug Crisis

Understanding the Epidemic | Drug Overdose | CDC Injury Center

Opioid Addiction 2016 Facts & Figures

About the Epidemic |

5 Charts That Show How Bad America’s Drug Problem Is | TIME

Rural Poverty Portal: Home

Why the Left Isn’t Talking About Rural American Poverty – Rural America

Child Poverty Higher and More Persistent in Rural America

Who’s Afraid of Rural Poverty? The Story Behind America’s Invisible

Hunger and Poverty

Additional Sources:

Social Mobility:

Cycles of Poverty:

How Poverty Affects Schools:

Karen’s Thoughts on THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES: Highly Recommended

femaleofthespecies femaleofthespecies2 femaleofthespecies3 femaleofthespecies4More From Mindy McGinnis

THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES 9.20.16 HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books
GIVEN TO THE SEA 4.11.17 Putnam Children’s Books
Available Now:

Book Review: The Way I Used To Be by Amber Smith

Publisher’s description

the way i usedIn the tradition of Speak, this extraordinary debut novel shares the unforgettable story of a young woman as she struggles to find strength in the aftermath of an assault.

Eden was always good at being good. Starting high school didn’t change who she was. But the night her brother’s best friend rapes her, Eden’s world capsizes.

What was once simple, is now complex. What Eden once loved—who she once loved—she now hates. What she thought she knew to be true, is now lies. Nothing makes sense anymore, and she knows she’s supposed to tell someone what happened but she can’t. So she buries it instead. And she buries the way she used to be.

Told in four parts—freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year—this provocative debut reveals the deep cuts of trauma. But it also demonstrates one young woman’s strength as she navigates the disappointment and unbearable pains of adolescence, of first love and first heartbreak, of friendships broken and rebuilt, and while learning to embrace a power of survival she never knew she had hidden within her heart.


Amanda’s thoughts

This was a rough read. After Eden is raped by Kevin, her brother’s best friend, she falls apart. Covered in blood and bruises, she can’t believe it was real—it must’ve been a nightmare or a fever dream. Her mom shows up in her room hours after the assault and Eden thinks, “Now, I’ve seen enough TV movies to know you’re supposed to tell. You’re just supposed to fucking tell.”  But her mother misses the obvious signs—she thinks Eden unexpectedly got her period—and Eden can’t bring herself to say the words. How do you tell that you were raped by your brother’s best friend and college roommate, someone long considered a part of your own family? Someone you have to sit at the breakfast table with just hours after the rape? Eden spend the next few years trying to erase and ignore the agony that’s with her every second of every day.


For a while she kind of keeps her head down and finds solace in her friends Mara and Stephen, and in their newly formed lunchtime book club. When Mara decides she’s ready for a change—to go from being a picked on and ignored geek to someone more confident and interesting—Eden thinks that idea sounds pretty okay. She’d certainly like to become someone else, too. We follow Eden, who is raped in 9th grade, through to her senior year, sometimes skipping over huge chunks of time. There’s really not a minute that she isn’t thinking of what happened to her. She’s angry and hateful—at Kevin, at herself, at everyone—and just wants to act normal and be okay. In 10th grade, she hooks up with Josh, a popular senior jock, and wants to have sex with him just to get it over with—to maybe try to replace the Kevin memories. But of course, that’s not how things work. Josh, who is kind and sweet, really likes Eden, but she makes it clear that she won’t be his girlfriend. She’s mean and hurtful and eventually drives him away. After Josh, there’s a long string of mostly nameless boys she has sex with. By senior year, she’s slept with 15 guys. She drives away all of her friends and potential friends, just still hurting so much and still completely uncertain how the hell you continue to go on with her after something like this happens. She’s an absolute wreck, and although some people definitely notice the changes in her, no one calls her out. No one digs deeper. No one asks the right question. No one helps her. It isn’t until Kevin is accused of raping his ex-girlfriend that Eden begins to find a way toward saying what she’s been biting back for so many years.


Though at times the pacing can be weird (junior year flies by in just a few pages), I found this book hard to put down. I think it may be easy for readers to sit back and feel they know what Eden should or should not do, or how she should or should not act. But Eden’s story is a reminder that there is no right or wrong way to behave or move forward after being raped. Eden knowing what she should do (tell someone immediately etc) and understanding why she’s making increasingly crummy decisions doesn’t make it any easier for her to dig her way out of this. It’s really hard to watch her downward spiral and see her surrounded by people who are completely oblivious to what is going on with her. The Way I Used To Be is an intensely gripping and raw look at secrets, silence, speaking out, and survival in the aftermath of a sexual assault. A must-have for every collection that serves teens. 


Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481449359

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books

Publication date: 03/22/2016

Book Review: The Word for Yes by Claire Needell

words for yesPublisher’s description

At once honest and touching, Claire Needell’s debut novel is a moving look at date rape and its aftermath, at the love and conflicts among sisters and friends, and how these relationships can hold us together—and tear us apart.

The gap between the Russell sisters—Jan, Erika, and Melanie—widens as each day passes. Then, at a party full of blurred lines and blurred memories, everything changes. Starting that night, where there should be words, there is only angry, scared silence.

And in the aftermath, Jan, Erika, and Melanie will have to work hard to reconnect and help one another heal.

The Word for Yes will inspire necessary conversation about a topical and important issue facing our society. The book includes a thoughtful author’s note that provides resources for readers.


Amanda’s thoughts

I almost abandoned this book about ten times, starting in the first few pages. The writing is stilted, the characters are flat, and the dialogue is unnatural/forced.


BUT I wanted to keep going because this book is about rape and it seemed like there may be some interesting things going on or worth talking about. I’m not much for writing negative reviews on here, so I’ll just hit the high points of why you might want this in your collection or might want to at least know about its content.


15-year-old Melanie is raped at a party. She’s raped by a guy she is friends with. They’re both drunk. She instigates the hookup. Her sister Erika and some friends find her partially naked and passed out. They find the boy in a nearby bathroom getting sick. When Melanie comes to, she instantly and fiercely tells Erika she will kill her if she tells anyone what happened. Erika takes this quit literally and, terrified, talks to no one —except her best friends Morris and Binky, and also her sister, Jan, none of whom take any steps to help. Melanie knows what happened. Her guy “friend” knows what happened. He tries to talk to her about it and be friendly. Melanie just wants to ignore it all and get back to normal. We see the guy’s perspective twice (the book alternates view points between the three sisters). As you’d expect rumors go around, blame is placed on Melanie. She thinks girls are responsible too for getting raped. Erika finally tells the school counselor what happened, who in turn brings Erika’s mom into the conversation. She is seems upset during the conversation, but also like she kind of doesn’t care. (There are also remarks made in this conversation like how drunk Melanie was and how that complicates things.) We don’t see her talk to Melanie about it or address it at all. We don’t really see how this reveal is handled. We do, however, know that their mom isn’t going to tell the girls’ dad about it because it’s a “women’s issue.”


All of this is to say that this story is about a girl being raped, but it’s also about nothing. There is a lot of filler here. The way the characters all react and choose to act or not act on this information is not unrealistic—there’s no one way for anyone to handle any of this—but it all feels so frustratingly distant. I couldn’t get a grip on the characters enough to really care about them. There’s no depth. Perfect Jan, favored Erika, and explosive Melanie fail to move beyond their roles and are just boring. I spent a lot of time yelling at this book for how the rape is handled and there’s certainly plenty to talk about there, but the book as a whole did nothing for me. There are plenty of other books that tackle this subject in better, more effective, more well-written ways.


The author includes a lengthy afterword about rape: what constitutes rape, nonstranger rape and the likelihood of it being reported, what roles drinking might play, self-care, what do to if raped, etc.


Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062360496

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 02/16/2016

Book Review: What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

what we sawPublisher’s description:

Critically acclaimed memoirist Aaron Hartzler, author of Rapture Practice, takes an unflinching look at what happens to a small town when some of its residents commit a terrible crime. This honest, authentic debut novel—inspired by the events in the Steubenville rape case—will resonate with readers who’ve ever walked that razor-thin line between guilt and innocence that so often gets blurred, one hundred and forty characters at a time.

The party at John Doone’s last Saturday night is a bit of a blur. Kate Weston can piece together most of the details: Stacey Stallard handing her shots, Ben Cody taking her keys and getting her home early. . . . But when a picture of Stacey passed out over Deacon Mills’s shoulder appears online the next morning, Kate suspects she doesn’t have all the details. When Stacey levels charges against four of Kate’s classmates, the whole town erupts into controversy. Facts that can’t be ignored begin to surface, and every answer Kate finds leads back to the same questions: Who witnessed what happened to Stacey? And what responsibility do they have to speak up about what they saw?


Amanda’s thoughts:

The relative calm of Kate’s Iowa high school is broken when the police show up and arrest four basketball players on charges of sexual assault, rape, and distribution of child pornography. What follows is an utterly sickening look at the pervasiveness of rape culture. When Stacey Stallard doesn’t show up to school the Monday after Dooney’s big party, rumors go around about how blackout drunk she was. The above mentioned picture circulates widely. When Mr. Johnston calls her name for attendance (she’s absent), Randy fake coughs the word “whore.” And that’s the general consensus about Stacey–she’s a whore, a slut. Kate notes, “[Stacey] has no problem attracting guys—any guys. All the guys. Jocks, preps, burnouts. Sometimes, it seems as though she’s dated half the junior class.” Even before we get very far into the story, it seems like a safe bet to think that Stacey will be blamed for getting raped. After all, she’s a slut, right? When Kate looks at Twitter, she sees messages like these:

Wait, the police can take my phone cause U R A SLUT?

Gonna rape her good for SURE now.

White trash ho was so drunk she couldn’t tell a dick from a donut.

What u get for inviting a TRAMP to the party.

If we lose state cause of this whore she’s gonna get more than raped.


The messages make Kate feel sick. They make me feel sick. Kate is initially shocked at the vehement outrage everyone seems to instantly have for STACEY, not for any of the star basketball players. I only wish I could feel shocked. Anyone who has paid any attention to the world at all is familiar with rape culture. Hartzler spends 336 pages making us take a long, hard look at exactly how rape culture plays out in this story. A reporter shares that allegedly there is a video of Stacey being raped—though authorities haven’t been able to find it. The principal’s statement is sickening and just the first of many times he defends these “fine” boys:

“These young men are innocent until proven guilty. It is important to understand that we are dealing with allegations against four students who have been examples of fine sportsmanship….”


The news report is also sickening, talking about “troubling” reports of Stacey’s behavior—the same tired old garbage that is always trotted out: she was drunk, she was dressed provocatively, she was maybe dating one of the boys. In other words, she was asking for it. I could quote passage after passage supporting these points (these “fine” boys, this “slutty” girl).


Kate and a friend are the only ones who seem to spend any time at all thinking about Stacey and how this is affecting her. At times I felt this overwhelming awe that a whole entire town could so easily champion these “good boys” and vilify the victim. Not awe because it seemed impossible, just awe that it is so completely possible. When I was a teenager, a friend of mine was raped.  A few weeks after it happened, her mom called me. She wasn’t calling to see if I thought her daughter was doing okay; she was calling to ask me if I thought her daughter was lying. This was well over 20 years ago now, but I still remember everything: where I stood in my room, what my phone looked like, how I instantly felt sick that her own mother didn’t believe her. That was the first time I remember really seriously thinking god help you if you’re raped–even your own mother might not believe the truth. Of course, in this case, the truth might just be on film, if anyone can track down the alleged recording.


There is a lot to talk about here. I have pages and pages of notes. Hartzler’s novel addresses the role social media plays in rumors and bullying, rape culture, slut-shaming, speaking up, and consent. He pushes Kate to think about what consent looks like and models both what it does and does not look like in her relationship with Ben. There is a wonderful scene where Mr. Johnston takes Reggie to task for making it seem like he couldn’t help himself if he were to rape a drunk girl. “You’re saying that our natural state as men is ‘rapist,'” Mr. Johnston says to Reggie. He asks the boys in class to brainstorm what you could do with a drunk girl instead of rape her. Bring her water, drive her home, find her friends, just walk away. THIS is the conversation that we all need to be having—not girls, here’s how you don’t get raped, but boys, here’s how you don’t rape.


Hartzler’s novel is not just phenomenal, it is important. It is an unflinching examination of just how exactly rape culture comes to exist. If you’ve somehow made it this far in life without really thinking about what rape culture looks like, Hartzler’s book will make it clear to you. And if you read this and think, but that’s not really what is happening, you need to look around you. Look at the news. Look at Steubenville.  Look at Owen Labrie‘s case, where the girl said no at least 3 times, but “the defense maintained that she did not resist actively enough.”  Look anywhere, really. Powerful and terrifying, this is another title that definitely makes my top books of 2015 list.


And, hey, parents reading this: go talk with your kids about consent. NOW. Think they’re too young? They’re never too young for that conversation. Here are some places to start if you need some food for thought for starting this VITAL ongoing conversation.

How to Teach Consent to Kids in Five Simple Steps

It’s Never Too Early to Teach Children About Consent and Boundaries

How Parents Talk to Children About Consent

How to Have the Consent Talk with Your Kids

Off to College is Too Late for the Consent Talk

Check in First: How to Talk About Sexual Consent

Planned Parenthood’s Consent and Rape section


For further reading also see:

The Steubenville High School Rape Case

Teen Librarian Toolbox’s Sexual Violence in Young Adult Literature hub

Buzzfeed: What Is Rape Culture?

#NoMoreShittySons, a Storify by Carrie Mesrobian


Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062338747

Publisher: HarperCollins

Publication date: 09/22/2015

The Sexual Violence in LGBTQIA+ YA Literature Project Index


For the past two weeks, Teen Librarian Toolbox focused on sexual violence in LGBTQIA+ young adult literature. This is part of our blog’s larger ongoing sexual violence in young adult literature (or SVYALit) project.


We’re grateful to Vee Signorelli, admin and co-founder of GayYA, and Nita Tyndall, a moderator at GayYA. who have helped us brainstorm, organize, and facilitate this project. This series launched on August 3, 2015 with this introductory post. 


Below is a listing of every contributor and a summary, link, and excerpt of each of their posts. We greatly appreciate all of the support we’ve had during this project—every retweet, favorite, or comment we’ve gotten has meant so much. Check out the index and see what posts you might have missed. Please share this index and these posts widely. Not much has been written on the subject of sexual violence in LGBTQIA+ YA literature. This project goes a long way toward helping change that.


Meet the contributors to our series and get an overview of the posts:


Rob Bittner (@r_bittneris a PhD candidate in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University. He has a history of working with children’s and YA literature in various contexts, including his MA degree and various award committees through the American Library Association. In his post, Violence in LGBTIQ Fiction for Young Adults,” he writes about the obligatory sexual violence scene in YA books.


While I understand that authors often include these instances of violence in order to lend a sense of realism to the story, I feel that having an overabundance of such situations in YA gives the impression that to come out as L, G, B, T, I, Q, etc., inevitably leads to violence or unavoidable negative consequences. The same goes for uses of homophobic/transphobic language in novels as a way of realistically portraying the cruelty of homophobic/transphobic individuals. The use of such language, however, also troubles many readers who hear these words being hurled at them in real life. Sometimes I think it’s okay to have a book that contains challenges for characters, and references life’s complexities, without necessarily including scenes of violence and/or homophobic language.



Eden Grey (@edenjeangrey) is the Young Adult Programming Librarian at the busiest branch library in Kentucky. Eden is a reviewer for Young Adult Books Central and School Library Journal. In her post, “Sex and Consent in LGBT Manga,” she explores the differences between portrayals of sex in lesbian and gay manga and heterosexual romance stories in manga.


Should we be sharing these stories with our teens? Is it our place to decide what kind of sex they should and should not have access to? Is the answer as simple as ordering popular and requested manga and placing the explicit ones in the Adult section? These are questions rarely asked or discussed in Libraryland, and that’s really unfortunate. If we’re ordering these manga for our teens we should be discussing the sexual violence in them with readers. We should use this as an opportunity to talk about the issue of consent.



Dahlia Adler (@MissDahlELamais an Associate Editor of Mathematics by day, a blogger for B&N Teens by night, and writes Contemporary YA and NA at every spare moment in between. She’s the author of the Daylight Falls duology, the upcoming Just Visiting, and Last Will and Testament. In “Why Heteronormativity in YA Hurts More Than You Think,” she examines consent and power dynamics in LGBTQ YA.


Whether the participants are straight, queer boys, queer girls, queer non-binary people, or any combination of the above, when writing people having sex (especially teens), I think we do a great disservice by glossing over the existence of a power dynamic. Especially the first time, the existence of one is nearly always present; sometimes we just have to dig a little deeper to find it. Writing YA lit is an incredible opportunity to show what consent can and should look like, how much closer it can make you, how sexy it can be. If YA sex scenes often seem like wish fulfillment, well, that’s an aspect I’m okay with teens reading and thinking, “That’s what I want and I’ll settle for nothing less.”



Marieke Nijkamp (@mariekeynis a storyteller, dreamer, globe-trotter, geek. She holds degrees in philosophy, history, and medieval studies, and wants to grow up to be a time traveler. In the midnight hours of the day she writes young adult stories as well as the occasional middle grade adventure. Her debut young adult novel THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS will be out from Sourcebooks Fire on January 5, 2016. In her post, “Microaggressions and Sexual Violence,” she looks at how microaggressions and sexual violence are closely related as symptoms of a culture that both sexualizes teens’ experiences and others or even fetishizes experiences that deviate from a supposed norm.


That doesn’t place microaggressions side to side with sexual violence, but they are closely related. They are a both symptoms of a culture that both sexualizes teens’ experiences and others or even fetishizes experiences that deviate from a supposed norm. A culture where the mere presence of queer characters means a YA book isn’t “clean” and where queer characters making out is still too often perceived as “having an agenda” while a cishet couple is simply romantic.


Vee Signorelli (@rausicabklvrspends their time writing, reading, hunting through queer book tags on tumblr, and keeping up with school. They’re a passionate feminist, a huge fan of actual representation in media, and a lover of theatre, mythology, and biology. Vee is the admin and co-founder of In their post, “Sex and Romance in Trans YA,” they look at the books in which trans characters have sex, get swept off their feet by a dashing love interest, and explain to their date that they’re trans and have them respond affirmatively.


Trans YA can have a strong impact on what trans youth understand about themselves. I’ve learned about identity politics through tumblr and non-fiction works, but reading trans YA helped me figure out how I could exist happily in the world. Seeing someone like you go through the things you’re going through, and things you never thought you’d experience can change a lot. Reading about trans characters in romantic relationships helped me see a future for myself and expel most of the seemingly infinite amount of shame I had around being trans.


Rachel Gold (@RachelGoldis the author of Just Girls (Bella Books 2014) and the award-winning Being Emily (Bella Books 2012), the first young adult novel to tell the story of a trans girl from her perspective. She has an MFA in Writing from Hamline University and has spent the last 14 years working in Marketing and Publicity. In her post, “Tough Girls Talk About Rape,” she talks about female-female partner/date rape in her book Just Girls and shares her own personal story.


I wrote about it because I wish something like this never happens again to another girl in the history of the world. And I wrote about it because that the same kind of partner rape that happened to Tucker happened to me when I was 17 — so I know how confusing and devastating it feels.


I know how alone you feel when you’re still trying to understand what the hell happened and wondering if it’s ever happened to anyone else. I know what it’s like to try to tell people and have them look at you like they want to help but they can’t begin to understand what you said. I know what it’s like to be afraid that you’re the only person bad enough for this to happen to.


Sarah Benwell (@SWritesBooks) is a queer, genderqueer author. She lives in the picturesque city of Bath. Which is nice, but she’d much rather be off exploring deserts and jungles elsewhere. Having seen a good chunk of the world, Sarah is a keen advocate for diversity in life and on bookshelves, and she loves nothing more than acquainting herself with both. Her debut novel THE LAST LEAVES FALLING is published by Penguin Random House (UK)/ Simon & Schuster (US). In her post, “Why We Need Abuse and Sexual Violence/Abuse in LGBTQIA YA,” she argues for the importance of these narratives as they show us that we’re not alone and that others have walked this same path.


And when you’re growing up and you already feel different and misunderstood and scared, books can help. Yes, they might show us some of the worst possibilities – but they allow us to read through to the end and survive. To learn how, to learn that it’s possible.

They show us that we’re not alone. That others have walked the same paths. And if – gods forbid – you do find yourself in similar awful situations, the last thing you want is to feel that you’re the only one, that it’s you.


Megan Honig (@vonmeggz) is a writer and editor and the former Young Adult Collections Specialist for the New York Public Library. She is the author of Urban Grit: A Guide to Street Lit, published by Libraries Unlimited, as well as the popular 30 Days of Street Lit blog series. In her post “Misrepresentations of Violence in Julie Anne Peters’ Rage: A Love Story,” Megan looks at one of the few YA titles depicting an abusive relationship between two girls–a book that, unfortunately, conceals more than illuminates abusive behaviors.


There are a few things Rage does well. One is to illustrate the challenge of being a young lesbian in a town where possible partners seem scarce, a situation that surely has an impact on Johanna’s persistent attitude toward Reeve. Another is to depict a teen character for whom finances are a consistent stressor and concern—another situation that is chronically underrepresented in teen fiction. But overall, Rage fails more than supports its teen audience. Many people enter into their first romantic or sexual relationships in adolescence, and teens—especially LGBTQ teens—need tools to help them navigate these often complicated and emotionally intense waters. Rage does not provide such tools; in fact, it makes some kinds of relationship violence harder to perceive.


Nita Tyndall (@NitaTyndall is a tiny Southern queer with a deep love of sweet tea and very strong opinions about the best kind of barbecue (hint: it’s vinegar-based.) She attends college in North Carolina and is pursuing a degree in English. In addition to being a YA writer, she is a moderator for The Gay YA and a social media coordinator for WeNeedDiverseBooks. You can find her on tumblr at nitatyndall where she writes about YA and queer things, or on Twitter at @NitaTyndall. InCoercion and Sexual Violence in LGBTQIA Lit,” Nita focuses on what coercion is and why “positive” or commonplace depictions of it are harmful, particularly in LGBTQ lit, through examining ASK THE PASSENGERS and SHE LOVES YOU, SHE LOVES YOU NOT.


Coercion or pressuring someone into coming out, or assuming their sexuality, is a problem that extends beyond YA literature. The narrative of forcing someone out of the closet or insisting they’ll be happier if they are, particularly if the person doing the pressuring is already out, is extremely problematic. Choosing whether or not to come out is a heavy decision, and insisting that you know better than the person who’s coming out, or making them feel like they have no choice but to, is not only incredibly disrespectful but speaks volumes about our treatment of other queer people: That you can only be happy if you’re out, or that staying in the closet is something to be ashamed of. That other people can make that decision for you, or pressure you into making it. Upholding such narratives as okay or romantic, especially to teenagers, is awful.


Cheryl Rainfield (@CherylRainfield) is the author of the award-winning SCARS, a novel about a queer teen sexual abuse survivor who uses self-harm to cope; the award-winning HUNTED, a novel about a teen telepath in a world where any paranormal power is illegal; STAINED, about a teen who is abducted and must rescue herself; and PARALLEL VISIONS, about a teen who sees visions and must save a friend. Cheryl is a lesbian feminist and incest and ritual abuse torture survivor. In her article “The Need For Realistic, Compassionate Portrayals of Sexual Violence In LGBTQIA+ (and all YA) Lit ,” she talks about the importance of realistic portrayals of sexual violence and abuse in queer YA lit and how they can help.


I felt so alone and in so much pain as a child and teen; I wanted to die most of the time and did actually try a few times to kill myself. I desperately wanted to know that I wasn’t alone, that I wasn’t the only one going through these horrific experiences or the only one was queer, and I tried to find that in books. I found small bits of validation, such as a character who was bullied or survived incest or a lesbian character, but I didn’t find enough—which is part of why I write the books I do. I write the books I needed to read as a teen and couldn’t find. I want others to know they’re not alone.

When we feel alone in traumatic or painful experiences—including abuse and homophobia—it makes the pain so much worse. I think when we see reflections of ourselves and our experiences, it helps lessen our pain, reassure us that we are not alone, help us feel healthier and happier, learn new ways of coping and surviving, and feel that we, too, can survive since characters with similar issues did.


Amanda MacGregor (@CiteSomething) is a librarian with a MA degree in children’s literature, a longtime book reviewer for School Library Journal, The Horn Book Guide, and Voice of Youth Advocates, and also a contributor at Teen Librarian Toolbox. In her post, “‘Our Kisses Were Seismic': Positive Sexual Experiences in LGBTQIA+ YA Books,” she shares some of her favorite positive sex/consent books, scenes, and relationships, as well as those offered up by friends on Twitter.


While it’s important to look at and discuss rape, consent, abuse, and violence, it’s equally as important to present plenty of healthy, positive, and enjoyable experiences for teen readers to show them what desire looks like and how it can play out. The field of books about LGBTQIA+ teens is growing in leaps and bounds. We are lucky that we can hand so many books to teenagers where the characters have happy and fulfilling relationships, where things are not all doom and gloom, and where sexual behaviors actually take place on the page, rather than some fade to black scenes. There is power in representation, in being seen, in seeing hope and happiness.

The Need For Realistic, Compassionate Portrayals of Sexual Violence In LGBTQIA+ (and all YA) Lit, a guest post by Cheryl Rainfield

By Cheryl Rainfield, author of YA novels SCARS, STAINED, HUNTED, and PARALLEL VISIONS (@CherylRainfield)


cheryl-books-prideWhen I was a child and teen, I lived through daily/nightly rape, torture, and mind control at the hands of my parents and other abusers; my parents belonged to intergenerational, interconnected cults. I was also queer. When people hear that, they often ask me if I’m lesbian because I was raped. My answer—and that of my queer survivor characters—is a resounding no. I was raped by both men and women in the cult, and by both of my parents, grandparents, and other relatives. Each rape traumatized, disgusted, and terrified me, no matter which gender raped me. And if rape could make survivors queer, then there’d be a heck of a lot more queer people in the world since at least 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys have experienced sexual abuse by the time they reach age 18Queer teens experience more rape than heterosexuals and have to face homophobia on top of it—sometimes in the form of rape, being beaten, being turned out of our families and homes, or other forms of hatred and  fear turned on us. I think we need books that talk about these experiences in an honest and real way. LGB teens are four times as likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual teens and half of transgender teens have seriously thought of suicide and 1 in 4 attempt it.

LGBTQIA+ teens (and adults) need to know they’re not alone and it can get better, and LGBTQIA+ survivors of rape, abuse, sexual violence, and torture need to know it even more.


#WeNeedDiverseBooks-lgbtq-rainfieldI felt so alone and in so much pain as a child and teen; I wanted to die most of the time and did actually try a few times to kill myself. I desperately wanted to know that I wasn’t alone, that I wasn’t the only one going through these horrific experiences or the only one was queer, and I tried to find that in books. I found small bits of validation, such as a character who was bullied or survived incest or a lesbian character, but I didn’t find enough—which is part of why I write the books I do. I write the books I needed to read as a teen and couldn’t find. I want others to know they’re not alone.

When we feel alone in traumatic or painful experiences—including abuse and homophobia—it makes the pain so much worse. I think when we see reflections of ourselves and our experiences, it helps lessen our pain, reassure us that we are not alone, help us feel healthier and happier, learn new ways of coping and surviving, and feel that we, too, can survive since characters with similar issues did.

Reading about characters who’ve experienced similar trauma or painful experiences can also help us decrease our shame, self-blame, and self-hatred; increase our compassion and acceptance for ourselves and others; and give us a tool to talk about the issue with others. And we all deserve to have that.


Readers have told me many times that because of my books, they were able to talk to someone for the first time about being queer, their abuse, or their self-harm; get help; stop self-harming; have more compassion for themselves or for someone who is a sexual abuse survivor, queer, or uses self-harm; feel less alone; survive the pain they’re living through; feel stronger in their own lives; and even keep from killing themselves. Books help heal.


#WeNeedDiverseBooks-everyone-reflections-rainfieldI don’t think there are enough YA novels with survivors of sexual violence written in a sensitive, realistic way, especially from someone who’s been there and knows what it’s like from the inside out; not enough YA books with queer characters; and definitely not enough books with both. And yet there is a need—not only for the queer community, but also for the world to help lessen homophobia and help increase awareness of sexual violence and its effects. An emotionally honest book about painful experiences can help readers whether they are queer or heterosexual, whether they have experienced sexual violence or some other form of abuse, or even if they haven’t experienced any of that at all but know someone who has. Books help us increase compassion and understanding by temporarily slipping into the soul of the character.



“Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.” –Joyce Carol Oates


cheryl-sometimes-be-own-heroI write about many of the traumatic experiences I’ve been through—rape and incest, self-harm, being queer and experiencing homophobia from a parent in SCARS; rape, being held captive, being withheld food and water in STAINED; oppression, betrayal, and being hunted in HUNTED; homophobic-based rape and gang rape, suicidal thoughts, and depression in PARALLEL VISIONS. I write strong-girl characters, emotionally-strong boy characters, and both queer and heterosexual characters who help each other. I try to write queer characters, characters of color, and characters with mental- or physical-health issues into my books, reflecting our real world. And I also write about many of the techniques I’ve used to heal and cope—creating art, seeing a therapist, talking to friends, reading comics and collecting superhero items, creating my own superhero from myself.

I always write strong-girl characters who have to save themselves. That is what I had to do—rescue myself—over and over again until I was finally safe.

I write honestly from my own trauma and healing experiences, opening up to my intense emotions, bleeding them out onto the page so the reader can feel. So that they understand—whether they’ve been through something similar or not. So that if they’ve been through it, they know they’re not alone.


And I show some of the possible side effects from rape, sexual abuse, trauma, and abuse—PTSD, dissociation, cheryl-superman-tanxiety, panic attacks, depression, suicidal thoughts, self-harm, isolation—all things I’ve experienced and know well. It’s important to me to show what the effects of rape and sexual violence are really like. They leave deep emotional scars. It’s not something we walk away from and shrug off like a second skin—the way some movies, TV shows, and comics suggest. And it’s not something that I think should ever be used just for dramatic effect or to make another (usually male) character become a hero. If we don’t show the intense pain, despair, depression, and other resulting effects from  rape and trauma, I think we are doing us all a great disservice by telling survivors, perpetrators, and everyone else that sexual violence leaves no trauma or side effects aside from the physical. I believe that the worst and deepest wounds aren’t physical, but are emotional and psychological. So it’s important to me to write realistic stories of sexual violence and trauma that teens can relate to, and yet are also full of hope and healing.


cheryl-rainfield-nobody-knows-im-lesbianIt’s also important to me to write books where the queer characters are happy with their sexuality—not just books where the character is coming out, but books where the story is about something else and the character just happens to be queer—and books where the queer characters are in relatively happy, healthy, consensual relationships, where the tension and strife is coming most from the outside, and a queer character doesn’t get penalized or killed off because they’re queer. I think books with queer characters can help normalize being queer, fight homophobia and hatred, and increase compassion.

Queer readers need books we can enjoy and experience the way heterosexuals can most any time they pick up a book—and heterosexual readers need to be exposed to queer characters as just a reflection of the world we live in.


I think there is a great need for LGBTQIA+ YA books that have positive queer characters, that explore rape, abuse, homophobia, and trauma in realistic, sensitive, and hopeful ways, and that include both. I hope to see many more such books in the future. I will keep writing the books I need to. And I hope that you will read, write, or share the books you need to, the books that help you feel alive or the books that moved you. Read on!


Meet Cheryl Rainfield

CHERYLCheryl Rainfield is the author of the award-winning SCARS, a novel about a queer teen sexual abuse survivor who uses self-harm to cope; the award-winning HUNTED, a novel about a teen telepath in a world where any paranormal power is illegal; STAINED, about a teen who is abducted and must rescue herself; and PARALLEL VISIONS, about a teen who sees visions and must save a friend. Cheryl Rainfield is a lesbian feminist, incest and ritual abuse torture survivor, and an avid reader and writer. She lives in Toronto with her little dog Petal.

Cheryl Rainfield has been said to write with “great empathy and compassion” (VOYA) and to write stories that “can, perhaps, save a life.” (CM Magazine)  SLJ said of her work: “[readers] will be on the edge of their seats.”

You can find Cheryl on her website or her blog, on Twitter:, Instagram:, and FaceBook

Sunday Reflections: Tough Girls Talk About Rape, a guest post by Rachel Gold

sundayreflectionsby Rachel Gold (@RachelGold)

[Spoiler alert and trigger warning: I’m going to talk about female-female partner/date rape in some detail and I’m going to reveal a significant plot point from Just Girls — so please navigate away if you don’t want to read either of those.]


Two-thirds of the way through Just Girls, Jess Tucker is raped by her ex-girlfriend the day after they break up. just girlsReaders don’t see the rape scene on the page, but Tucker tells her best friend and the reader what happened a few chapters later.

Why write about this in a YA novel? Because we don’t talk about it nearly enough. Because according to the U.S. Dept. of Justice women age 16-24 are three times more vulnerable to intimate partner violence than any other age group. And because I hadn’t seen a scene like it in a the queer YA I’ve read.


I wrote about it because I wish something like this never happens again to another girl in the history of the world. And I wrote about it because that the same kind of partner rape that happened to Tucker happened to me when I was 17 — so I know how confusing and devastating it feels.


I know how alone you feel when you’re still trying to understand what the hell happened and wondering if it’s ever happened to anyone else. I know what it’s like to try to tell people and have them look at you like they want to help but they can’t begin to understand what you said. I know what it’s like to be afraid that you’re the only person bad enough for this to happen to.


I hope the scene with Tucker gives readers the understanding that it is more than okay to shove someone away and leave — and that if they can’t that there’s help, support and love out there. I hope it shows that it is more than okay to talk about same-sex partner/date rape happening to teens.


Dear 17-Year-Old-Me

What happened to me isn’t the same as what happened to Tucker, but it’s close enough. If you want to know how same-sex teen partner rape happens, what’s in the novel is a realistic example.


In my case, my girlfriend was a few years older and had a lot more power in our relationship. I was going to break up with her, she pushed sex. I told her I didn’t want to. She told me to do it anyway. She did what she wanted while I froze in shock and horror and tried to figure out if it was okay to hurt my girlfriend to get her off me.


(Dear 17-year-old-me and anyone else who needs this answer: Yes, it’s okay to hurt someone you’ve loved if they’re forcing you to have sex. It’s beyond okay to scream and hit and get away from them — to leave and get help. It doesn’t matter if she’s a woman, if she’s your girlfriend, if she said she loves you a hundred times — if you mean “no” and she doesn’t stop, you have every right to stop her. And if you don’t or can’t, it’s not at all your fault that it happened.)


I was, for a while, furious and then that slipped away and left me with shame and grief. Like Tucker does in the novel, I got sick afterwards and that had a buffering effect which helped in terms of raw pain but later made it easier to downplay what had happened and not talk about it.


Silence Serves No One

One reader told me she appreciated that the rape in the novel happened to Tucker and not another character because Tucker is a tough girl. She said it was good to see that rape also happens to tough girls.


I have a tough girl streak and that also made it harder for me to talk about it. I hate being seen as a victim or as weak. As I trace back the roots of my own “people will think I’m weak” fears, I can see how that they’re rooted in the pervasive cultural shame around being raped.


I never had any shame about being queer/lesbian. I came out young and brashly. I took a girl to prom (in the 80s). Nothing in the world could make me shut up about being a lesbian or being a trans advocate.


And yet I shut up about being raped by a girlfriend for most of 26 years.


That’s how pervasive the shame is in our culture. I didn’t want to be “that stupid girl” who got raped.


(Dear 17-year-old-me: rape doesn’t make you weak or stupid or bad. You can choose to identify as a victim when that identity is empowering and drop it otherwise. Talking about rape, that makes you a badass.)


Being tough or strong is about how you recover and integrate what’s happened to you, not about never getting wrecked by someone. It happened and I’m strong. And those are two separate things — it’s not that I’m strong because it happened or that I’m strong because I survived. I’m strong because I make choices that give strength.


JustGirls-TuckerShame and Other Dumbass Cultural Messages

I didn’t talk about it because of the shame, but I also didn’t talk about it back then because I didn’t want people to know that it happens. I hate when lesbians are the bad guys.


It is deeply shitty when you fight to come out, finally start dating girls like you want and then rape, assault or violence happens. How do you go back to the same people who looked at you disapprovingly when you came out and tell them what happened?


These days you don’t have to. There are great support lines and online resources. See the end of this blog for a list.


(Dear 17-year-old-me: If you tell someone and they don’t know what to do or you’re not getting help, tell someone else. There are people who love you and want to help you. There are people who don’t know you but could say really smart things if you just call that support line that you think you don’t need.)


Also I REALLY didn’t want to hear anyone say: that’s what you get for having sex at 17. That is beyond bullshit.


I was a teen who liked sex (with girls) and that’s why I include sex in my novels — because it can be great to have sex as a teen if that’s what you want. The sex I had between from 16 to 19 was awkward and crazy and wonderful and fun. (Dear 17-year-old-me: good call!)


Rape isn’t about sex. It doesn’t happen because you’re having sex and you can’t prevent it by not having sex. And, sadly, just because you’re having sex with girls doesn’t mean you’re immune to someone else’s abuse of power.


Rape is about power and violence. Even if the perpetrator is someone you’ve had sex with, even if it involves the same physical actions that have happened during sex — it’s no more about sex than being stabbed with a kitchen knife is about cooking.


Many people have written powerful, moving words about what rape is and isn’t, personally and culturally. All I have to add is this: when you’re young and in your first queer relationships, it can feel like you’ve found this amazing safe haven. There is an added layer of sickening violence when the perpetrator was your girlfriend or partner.


You can be struggling with the personal destruction of rape itself and feel like you’re not safe or don’t belong in that community you thought was your perfect home. This is why if violence, rape or abuse happens to you, being in a loving community is so important. Please don’t isolate yourself and try to muscle through it alone.


I’m grateful to the women who took care of me even though they didn’t know what had happened. I glossed over it as a bad breakup and the physical sickness I had afterward — but I still had a strong community of lesbian, bi and straight women who treated me with care and made a safe place for me to start recovering. I hope that talking openly and writing scenes likes the one in Just Girls will lend strength to loving communities and the people who need them.


Stuff I wish I’d known:

I wish I’d told more people. There are three friends I can think of now that I dearly wish I’d told back then. I’ve told them since and they were wonderful about it.

It’s so okay to feel however you feel. Write it, paint it, dance it, speak it — do whatever feels good to you to express it and give your feelings a lot of space.

I wish I’d gotten more help — ideally from someone trained in same-sex sexual violence counseling. If that feels too scary, talk to someone you trust and see if they’ll help you get that kind of support. At 17 I didn’t know how to talk about it beyond saying that it had happened — I needed someone who could help talk me through the stages of recovering and integrating what happened.

I didn’t trust the women I dated for a few years afterward. I went on having sex, but I didn’t connect. I wish I’d had a way to take stock of things and realize that was happening.

For everyone: please learn how consent works — especially if you’re young and having sex. No means no, but a lot of other words and phrases also mean no, like “I don’t want to.” Questions can mean no, like “Can we stop?” Physical gestures like freezing or pulling away can mean no.

If someone tells you rape, assault or partner violence happened to them, helpful responses include:

“I’m so sorry that happened.”

“I’ll listen for as long as you want.”

“Do you need someone to go with you to the hospital/therapist? I’ll go with you.”

“Thank you for telling me.”

I am working on a sequel to Just Girls in which Tucker will get some excellent counseling (in addition to trying some things that don’t work because tough girls often have to trial-and-error things out). She’ll get great sex and deep emotional connections — because what breaks you in one volume of your life is never the whole story.

Nobody gets to write your story but you.


Pandora’s Project

Support and resources for survivors of rape and sexual abuse – including an LBGT online forum.


National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs

A national coalition of local member programs that works to prevent, respond to, and end all forms of violence against and within LGBTQ communities.


San Francisco Women Against Rape

24-hour hotline 415-647-7273

SFWAR is a women of color led, volunteer-based organization that has provided rape crisis services to survivors of sexual assault for over 30 years.


Meet Rachel Gold

Rachel Gold is the author of Just Girls (Bella Books 2014) and the award-winning Being Emily (Bella Books 2012), the first young adult novel to tell the story of a trans girl from her perspective. She has an MFA in Writing from Hamline University and has spent the last 14 years working in Marketing and Publicity — but if that makes her sound too corporate and stuffy, you should know that Rachel is an all around geek and avid gamer. For more information visit: