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Healing Is Not a Journey We Take Alone, a guest post by Bree Barton


(Content warning: this post talks about sexual assault.)

If you eavesdrop on a bunch of writers talking about writing, you might think they’ve just returned from the boxing ring.   

“This book is going to destroy me.” “That scene has beaten me to a bloody pulp.” 

The second book seems to hit especially hard. “Boob 2 is killing me,” an author typed in an online support group I’m a part of, a typo that spawned a delightful series of Boob 2 memes.

When my novel Heart of Thorns debuted last year, I was struggling under the massive weight of Boob 2 myself. Tears of Frost is the hardest thing I’ve ever written. I’m fiercely proud of it, but the process was excruciating. What I didn’t say in my online support group was why it was so hard.

I’d been drafting for under a month when my little sister was raped. I share that with her permission, because she’d like our culture to be able to talk more openly about rape and sexual assault.

My sister and I are very close. I dedicated my first book to her. I would burn the world to the ground to protect her. After she was raped, I wanted to.

So I did what any furious writer would do. I poured every ounce of rage into my book.  

I’d had a vague sense that I wanted to write about assault in the sequel to Heart of Thorns. After all, I’d built my entire magical system on an imbalance of power and a history of oppression, specifically against women’s bodies. How could I not write about assault?

After my sister’s rape, I grew braver. I was ready to tackle the messy, contradictory, enraging realities of trauma and its aftermath. I felt both angry and helpless, so I made my main character a fighter, someone who channeled her anger with her fists.

Meanwhile, my sister took a weeklong leave from high school. I brought her out to Los Angeles where we watched YouTube videos of Krav Maga, jujitsu, and street fighting, then practiced our new moves in my living room. We laughed together. We cried. We felt strong and powerful.

Sometimes, that isn’t enough.

One year later, during a trip to Morocco to research Book 3, I was assaulted in my hotel room by a hotel employee. 

Processing what happened has been an ongoing journey. My Tears of Frost copyedits were due the week after I left Morocco. I was reading, at a very close level, a book that dealt overtly with sexual assault. At best it was surreal. At worst, impossible. 



Here’s the kicker: the following week I flew to Portland to moderate a panel at a literary conference. The subject of the panel?


Girls and Sexual Agency. 



Oh, dramatic irony, my old friend. 

My story is not unique. Most of my friends have been harassed or assaulted, many far worse. I know, rationally, it wasn’t my fault. I’ve said this to my sister dozens of times, and I say it to her still. Yet the same questions continue to plague me. Was it because I smiled in the lobby? Were my pants and long-sleeve shirt too form fitting? Why was I naïve enough to open my hotel room door? 

When my mind wanders down those familiar furrows, I do my best to coax it back. Rape and sexual assault cannot be traced to smiles and clothes and open doors. It’s always about power. In Morocco, my power was taken away from me.  

And yet. I survived. I’ll tell you why.



Other women

After I was assaulted, our tour guide led me down a dark back hallway of the hotel to confront my assaulter so that he could “apologize” and keep his job. I knew this wasn’t right—I was absolutely terrified—but I was in too much shock to be able to stop what was happening. When the women on my tour found out? They LEAPT into action. They ensured that the employee was fired and off the premises immediately. They took me into their rooms, their dinner tables, their train cars. They comforted me through the mental fog that descended after the adrenaline wore off. These women became my sisters, my mothers, my friends. They walked beside me through the streets of Morocco, and they walked with me through the tortuous labyrinth of blame, fear, and confusion inside my own brain.



When I think of that time now, these women emerge out of the dark haze like warm beacons: with jokes, snacks, courage, and compassion. I don’t know how I would have survived without them. That’s not me being weak. That’s me being human.



I have felt so many things these past months. Frightened and frozen, hopeful and lucky, incandescent with rage. I was okay, and I wasn’t okay, and telling the whole story over and over made me feel exhausted and exposed. When a friend asked, “Will you travel alone again?” I didn’t know how to respond. Traveling solo brings all the best parts of me to life. The thought of losing that was so painful I had to put it in a box and shove it onto the tallest shelf, until I was ready to take it down. 

Six months later, an opportunity came to take it down.

I met a woman who was curating a book of letters by Arab women. She offered to fly me to Bahrain, a tiny archipelago in the Persian Gulf, to help her conduct interviews. I said yes.

I could write whole books about the women I met. The badass lawyer who’s fighting the patriarchy on a daily basis, whether it’s representing women pro bono or hiring an all-female team of other badass lawyers. The founder of a nonprofit that empowers and develops youth and women. The blogger who was incarcerated for posting on Instagram about female anatomy and women’s sexual pleasure. Since coming home, I’ve gone to sleep every night thinking, There is so much to fight for. And there are so many women fighting for it. 

That is why I wrote Tears of Frost. It’s why I poured so much of my heart into crafting a story about two young women who are in a dark, isolating place—and how they crawl, claw, and fight their way back to one another. The book became a way for me to reflect on larger themes of assault, power, and ultimately, healing.

I don’t believe healing is a journey we take alone. I believe we need friends, communities, sisters. We need guidance and support from people who have walked this path before, which is why it was important to me to include an author’s note at the front of my book, and resources at the end.

My Boob 2 is not a perfect book by any means. But it’s a book in which I chose to fight for something.

Sometimes, that is enough.

Meet Bree Barton

Bree Barton is author of the Heart of Thorns trilogy, a fierce feminist fantasy series about three girls with dark magic—and even darker secrets. The second book, Tears of Frost, comes out from KT/HarperCollins on November 5th, 2019. Bree’s novels have been published in seven countries and four languages, three of which she cannot speak. 

When she isn’t crafting a story, Bree teaches Rock ‘n’ Write, a free dance-and-writing class she created for teen girls in LA. You can find her on Instagram @SpeakBreely, where she posts fan art, book giveaways, and the occasional picture of her melancholy dog. 

About Tears of Frost by Bree Barton

This captivating second book in Bree Barton’s Heart of Thornstrilogy deftly explores the effects of power in a dark magical kingdom—and the fierce courage it takes to claim your body as your own. This feminist teen fantasy is perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas and Leigh Bardugo.

Mia Rose is back from the dead. Her memories are hazy, her body numb—but she won’t stop searching. Her only hope to save the boy she loves and the sister who destroyed her is to find the mother she can never forgive.   

After her mother’s betrayal, Pilar is on a hunt of her own—to seek out the only person who can exact revenge. All goes according to plan until she collides with Prince Quin, the boy whose sister she killed.

As Mia, Pilar, and Quin forge dangerous new alliances, they are bewitched by the snow kingdom’s promise of freedom…but nothing is as it seems under the kingdom’s glimmering ice.

ISBN-13: 9780062447715
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 11/05/2019
Series: Heart of Thorns #2
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

Book Review: Light Filters In: Poems by Caroline Kaufman

Publisher’s description

light filters inIn the vein of poetry collections like Milk and Honey and Adultolescence, this compilation of short, powerful poems from teen Instagram sensation @poeticpoison perfectly captures the human experience. 

In Light Filters In, Caroline Kaufman—known as @poeticpoison—does what she does best: reflects our own experiences back at us and makes us feel less alone, one exquisite and insightful piece at a time. She writes about giving up too much of yourself to someone else, not fitting in, endlessly Googling “how to be happy,” and ultimately figuring out who you are.

This hardcover collection features completely new material plus some fan favorites from Caroline’s account. Filled with haunting, spare pieces of original art, Light Filters In will thrill existing fans and newcomers alike.

it’s okay if some things

are always out of reach.

if you could carry all the stars

in the palm of your hand,

they wouldn’t be

half as breathtaking

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I’ve been using this summer to try to catch up on a lot of the books from the past few months that I haven’t had time to read. This one has been sitting in my pile since May and I’m so glad I finally got around to it. Librarians, teachers, and booksellers, please get this book and put it out in various displays. This collection of poems about mental health, the aftermath of sexual assault, help, and hope is an important one. This is a beautiful, raw, and extremely moving book that so many will be able to relate to for so many reasons. There are references to self-harm and other topics that some readers will find triggering, FYI. Told in four parts, Kaufman moves from crisis to processing what she’s been through to help and treatment to hope and moving forward. The poems are short and sometimes feel unfinished or repetitive, but taken all together create a powerful and profound look at what it means to be a girl, to be a survivor, and to find help, support, and hope in the face of so much unhappiness. Though I am well past my teenage years, reading this really spoke to Teenage Me and I can only imagine how comforted I would have felt seeing someone so adeptly capture so much of what I felt at that time. A lovely, if not always easy to read, collection. 

 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062844682
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/22/2018

Book Review: Saints and Misfits by S. K. Ali

Publisher’s description

ra6Saints and Misfits is an unforgettable debut novel that feels like a modern day My So-Called Life…starring a Muslim teen.

There are three kinds of people in my world:

1. Saints, those special people moving the world forward. Sometimes you glaze over them. Or, at least, I do. They’re in your face so much, you can’t see them, like how you can’t see your nose.

2. Misfits, people who don’t belong. Like me—the way I don’t fit into Dad’s brand-new family or in the leftover one composed of Mom and my older brother, Mama’s-Boy-Muhammad.

Also, there’s Jeremy and me. Misfits. Because although, alliteratively speaking, Janna and Jeremy sound good together, we don’t go together. Same planet, different worlds.

But sometimes worlds collide and beautiful things happen, right?

3. Monsters. Well, monsters wearing saint masks, like in Flannery O’Connor’s stories.

Like the monster at my mosque.

People think he’s holy, untouchable, but nobody has seen under the mask.

Except me.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Ali - Saints and MisfitsThis excellent book manages to be both about BIG things (faith, family, sexual assault) and about very everyday things (friendship, tests at school, crushes). Ali does a great job of weaving the big and little things together as we watch sophomore Janna Yusuf learn, grow, and find her voice.

 

We first meet Janna, wearing a burkini, while she’s in Florida with her dad and his family. She’d rather not be hanging out with them, but after her friend’s cousin sexually assaults her at a gathering, she needs to get out of town. Farooq, who Janna mostly just refers to as “the monster,” is well-respected in their community, a sort of golden boy at their mosque, who has memorized the entire Qur’an (but doesn’t appear to actually understand any of it). Janna keeps the assault to herself for much of the story, busy navigating the many parts of her life, but the monster is always around and Janna is fearful and angry. Janna’s brother, Muhammad, has recently moved home, taking a year off from college, and is courting Sarah, a study circle leader at their mosque, who Janna feels is, annoying, “the most perfect Muslim girl.” Janna spends time with Mr. Ram, her elderly Hindu neighbor, tries to figure out what to do about her crush on white, non-Muslim Jeremy, and hangs out with friends. She takes part in an Islamic Quiz Bowl team, too, getting to know more about people like Nuah, a nice dude who is friends with the monster, and Sausun, a niqab-wearing girl who becomes a surprising ally for Janna.

 

As Janna finds her voice, she struggles with how to fit in (both with her Muslim friends and her non-Muslim friends, as well as within her divided family), with what is important to her, and with how to make real connections with the people in her life. This is a thoughtful and engaging look at identity and finding your footing in your own life. As with the other books from Salaam Reads, this should be in all collections. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481499248

Publisher: Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Publication date: 06/13/2017

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