Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

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

Shout! Laurie Halse Anderson Continues to be the Voice We Need Shouting in the World About Sexual Violence in the Life of Teens

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Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson was first published in the year 1999, twenty years ago this year. At this time, I had been a YA librarian (paraprofessional) for about 7 years (roughly). It was one of the first teen books I had read that realistically and honestly talked right to the heart of teens about an issue that so many of them had been forced to deal with in their lives: sexual violence. By the time they turn 18, 1 in 10 children will be the victims of sexual violence. For more information on sexual violence or for help, please contact RAINN.

“I have survived. I am here. Confused, screwed up, but here. So, how can I find my way? Is there a chain saw of the soul, an ax I can take to my memories or fears?”
― Laurie Halse Anderson, Speak

In the year 2000, Speak was named a Printz Honor Award winning title, the inaugural year of the Printz Award. We talk often in the library community about the need to continually weed our YA collections to keep room for new releases, but Speak is hands down one of those classic titles that it is hard to imagine ever weeding. Not because it’s a classic, and I guess at this point it truly is, but because it is in fact unfortunately all too painfully relevant today, and I fear that it will always be so. Speak is the rare gem of a novel that speaks eloquently and powerfully in ways that relate across decades to a wide variety of readers. And in the era of #MeToo, it is more relevant than ever.

“I wonder how long it would take for anyone to notice if I just stopped talking.”
― Laurie Halse Anderson, Speak

An Educators Guide to Building Resilience Through YA Literature

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On March 12 of 2019, Laurie Halse Anderson will release her newest book Shout, a moving biography that seeks once again to highlight the very real truths of sexual violence in the life of teens – and in her own life. I was honored to receive an early copy of this book for review, which I read out loud to both my teenage daughter and my husband. This book, written in verse, is a rich, raw and relevant look behind the scenes of the life and work of Anderson, who has dedicated her to life to not only writing high quality YA for teen readers, but to speaking out to educate and advocate for discussions about sexual violence in the life of teens. Anderson challenges us time and again to keep having the uncomfortable discussions that we need to be having with ourselves, our teens and our culture to help put an end to sexual violence.

A Reflection on Teaching Speak in the Classroom

Why did I choose to read this book out loud to my family? The topic of sexual violence is very important to me. I, myself, am a survivor and I wanted us all to read it together and talk about it. I began early in life talking with my two daughters about sexual violence and consent in my attempt to help them stand up for themselves, to create their own healthy boundaries, and to make sure they knew what sexual violence looks like and that they could and should come to their parents for help at any time. I am grateful to have this book as another tool in my arsenal to talk with teens – and my teens in particular – about this important topic. I believe the greatest gift that we can give to the safety and well being of our children is to engage in conversations with them about sexual health, safety and consent. And I believe that we need to begin from the moment that they are born having these conversations in age appropriate ways.

Laurie Halse Anderson Recommends Five Books to Talk About Rape Culture

I had to pause in my reading several times as I read this aloud because I cried – a lot. I cried because Anderson uses the language of poetry perfectly to capture and talk about what it’s like to be a woman in this world, what it’s like to have abusive situations in your life, and what it’s like to navigate and live with the aftermath of sexual violence. The poetry is exquisite, even when it’s hard to read. She said beautifully so many things that I have never had the words to say for myself.

School Library Journal: After #MeToo

Shout is broken up into several parts. The first part speaks specifically of Laurie Halse Anderson’s life as it is truly a biography told in poetic verse. I have never read a biography in verse form before, and I don’t read many biographies at all to be honest, but I was blown away by how powerful of a tool poetry is for a biography. Poetry, it turns out, is the perfect narrative tool for conveying not only moments and insight, but the emotional layers and hidden parts of those moments. What a truly profound approach to biography, and highly effective. I could tattoo snippets of these poems onto my skin as I would want to share them with the world to help us all understand the harm we are doing to one another when we violate each other in these ways.

In other parts, Anderson speaks more specifically about the various stories that the teens she has encountered have shared with her about their own sexual abuse and what the novel Speak means to them. All of it is honest, brave, raw and moving. As someone who has talked to a lot of teens, I recognized all too well these types of stories and, again, felt that the language of poetry was the perfect tool to help readers understand the depth and breadth of pain and emotion that a teen can carry with them for a lifetime after surviving sexual violence. These poems lay souls bare and remind readers that our kids are genuinely hurting. We owe it to them to keep having these uncomfortable conversations and to truly try and change the culture that keeps leaving our youngest and most vulnerable broken and somehow responsible for trying to put themselves back together again. Anderson doesn’t just try and speak to teens or for teens, but she continues to try and amplify their voices and challenges us all to really listen to teens.

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I can not recommend this book highly enough. It is not a comfortable read, and it shouldn’t be because it is dealing with uncomfortable truths about our world; but it is a necessary read, and it is a truly moving one. I am so glad that over the years Anderson not only has found her voice, but that she has chosen to Shout. We need voices like hers shouting, I just hope that we will learn how to listen.

Publisher’s Book Description

A searing poetic memoir and call to action from the bestselling and award-winning author of Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson!

Bestselling author Laurie Halse Anderson is known for the unflinching way she writes about, and advocates for, survivors of sexual assault. Now, inspired by her fans and enraged by how little in our culture has changed since her groundbreaking novel Speak was first published twenty years ago, she has written a poetry memoir that is as vulnerable as it is rallying, as timely as it is timeless. In free verse, Anderson shares reflections, rants, and calls to action woven between deeply personal stories from her life that she’s never written about before. Searing and soul-searching, this important memoir is a denouncement of our society’s failures and a love letter to all the people with the courage to say #metoo and #timesup, whether aloud, online, or only in their own hearts. Shout speaks truth to power in a loud, clear voice– and once you hear it, it is impossible to ignore.

This book will be published on March 12, 2019

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In 2014, TLT did a year long series on sexual violence in the life of teens. You can find all of those posts that include statistics, resources, and book discussions here.

Sunday Reflections: It Was a Rough Week to be a Teenage Girl

Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault and Violence

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This past week, John Kerry said that Trump had the “insecurity of a teenage girl.” Are teenage girls insecure? Some of them are, perhaps in part because we continue to use being a girl and femininity as an insult. Or perhaps it’s because teenage girls are told that they have to be sexy, but not too sexy because then you’re asking for it. Or perhaps it’s because teenage girls are told that they have to be smart but not too smart because then they are intimidating. Or perhaps it’s because teenage girls are told they have to speak up but no too loudly because then they are shrill and bossy. Or perhaps it’s because teenage girls are told that they have to be perfect and bear responsibility not only for themselves, but for the education of the boys around them (dress codes), for the future of the human race (pregnancy and maternal instinct) and for, well, everything it feels like.

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But if teenage girls weren’t already feeling insecure about being used metaphorically to take down a sitting president by pointing out their, well, insecurity, they were also told repeatedly by political, cultural, and spiritual leaders that their safety doesn’t matter. Especially if it means that we might have to reconsider our current Supreme Court candidate and have to put pushing a political agenda on hold to try and find a conservative Supreme Court candidate that hasn’t been accused of attempted sexual assault. That’s right, teenage girls got to spend the entire week hearing about how their sexual safety really doesn’t matter, which definitely won’t make them feel insecure, am I right? Boys will be boys and we just have to accept that, even if it means that we have to sacrifice the long term emotional well being of our daughters. Even if it means we have to place yet another alleged sexual predator on the Supreme Court. If the current version of the future plays out the way the GOP wants it to play out, that means that teenage girls will get to grow up in a world where two sitting Supreme Court justices have been accused of sexual violence and harassment. If that doesn’t make you feel insecure and fearful about your place in the world, I can’t really figure out what would.

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In the meantime, they got to hear elected representatives, including our own personal self-confessed sexual predator president, talk about how the pain of teenage girls doesn’t really matter. Of course, we shouldn’t find this surprising from the man who confessed that he liked to walk in on teenage girls changing clothes in the dressing room of the beauty pageant he owned. So I’m not going to lie, as a former teenage girl who was sexually abused, I don’t really care what this man has to say about sexual abuse and harassment. Self-confessed perpetrators don’t get to tell survivors of sexual violence how they should think or feel about what has happened to them.

Then the hashtag #whyIdidntreport started trending. It’s important to note that this is not the first time a hashtag of this nature has trended and it, most infuriatingly, won’t be the last. Why don’t victims of sexual violence immediately report their abuse? Because we know that 9 times out of 10 we won’t be believed and even if we are, the men who victimize us will pay very little consequences. Remember Brock Turner? There are thousands of Brock Turners who are serving too little time for violating us. And there are far too many people in our culture who worry about the effects of jail time on men like Brock Turner’s future then there are those that worry about the long term effects of sexual violence on the girls that men like Brock Turner rape. Maybe teenage girls are insecure because we keep telling them that their pain doesn’t matter and that they are the sacrifices we are willing to make to sustain the lives of men.

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When you think about the world that teenage girls are growing up in, and I mean really think about it, they are doing a bang up job in all honesty. They are out there marching, demanding to be heard, learning, growing, and more. They are rising up, as they always have, against a patriarchy that continues to claim that they are somehow lesser, so much lesser that even some of our most progressive elected representatives still find it far too easy to use them as a negative comparison to make a political point. Yes, I’m side eyeing you John Kerry.

It was a rough week to be a teenage girl, as most weeks are when you live in a patriarchy. I don’t blame teenage girls though, because it is the adults that are making life hard for them. When I marched in the Women’s March one of the signs I kept seeing was a sign that said, “I can’t believe I’m still marching for the same shit.” That’s what this week has felt like. Why are we still here? Why are we still willing to sacrifice our daughters for the sake of our sons political careers? It’s 2018, maybe we can find someone who hasn’t been accused of sexual violence to serve in the highest court of our land. Maybe, just this once, we can send a different message to send to our sons and daughters and let them know that character matters and female pain isn’t an acceptable sacrifice.

My daughters aren’t an acceptable sacrifice for your political agenda.

Helping Teens Prepare for College? Don’t Forget to Talk About Sexual Violence

I will readily admit that college preparation has been one aspect of teen librarianship that I have often failed to provide adequate services in. I have been really focusing on that more this year and have even started a special collection for college preparation/research and new adult materials. The New Adult collection specifically focuses on books with main characters in college to give teens the opportunity to find and read books about this possible next step in their life. At the same time, my own teenage daughter is starting to prepare for college. Just yesterday I was researching what the best colleges are for a Chemistry major. Both professionally and personally, helping teens plan for life after high school has been very much on my mind.

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Later that same day, I walked behind the circulation desk where I heard two staff members talking about visiting Ohio University over the weekend. If you don’t know, there have been 6 reported rapes on the OU campus since school started this fall. That’s six rapes in about a month’s time. That moment was a jarring reminder to me, as someone who works with teens and is researching college with her teen daughter, that sending our kids – especially our female ones – off to college can be an incredibly scary thing. Yet when we talk about doing college research, we often focus on things like cost and what schools have are best for a particular major. These questions are, no doubt, important and relevant, but they are not the only questions we should be teaching our teens to research. I would like to ask everyone of us that works with teens to expand our college preparation talks to include looking specifically at campus safety.

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Here are some facts about college sexual violence from Rainn:

  • 11.2% of all students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation (among all graduate and undergraduate students).2
  • Among graduate and professional students, 8.8% of females and 2.2% of males experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation.2
  • Among undergraduate students, 23.1% of females and 5.4% of males experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation.2
  • 4.2% of students have experienced stalking since entering college.2

Discussion about consent and sexual violence should definitely start before college (it should start at birth!), but as we are talking with teens and providing resources for teens to research college, one of the things we should be telling them to research is their college campus safety statistics and the statistics of the towns in which their colleges are located. College planning and prep can’t just be about majors and cost, it must also be about safety. Our teens may not think about this so we owe it to them to remind them to research this aspect of college life as well. We need to make sure our teens are making fully informed decisions, and there health and safety should be a very important part of that equation.

Things to look for:

Research college campus safety statistics for each college being considered

Town safety statistics and crime rates for each of the colleges being considered

Look at the college website. Do they have a page that talks about campus safety and consent? What does the college you are researching say specifically about college safety and their response protocol for reported incidents of sexual violence?

Do a general Google search. Has the college been in the news for recent incidents or for complaints about improper handling of reported incidents?

If you do a college campus visit, specifically ask them about both their safety statistics and whether or not they have a written procedure and staff training for handling issues of sexual violence on campus.

Resources:

How Safe Is Your Campus? Campus Safety Resources You Need

How to Do College Research Right: Step-by-Step Guide

Learn How to Research Campus Safety | Best Colleges | US News

College sexual assault: 10 questions to ask when choosing a school

18 Questions to Ask About Your School’s Sexual Assault Policy

10 Questions Every Parent, Student Should Ask About Campus Safety

Choosing a university? Look into campus rape rankings before you start packing

2019 Safest College Campuses in America – Niche

Sunday Reflections: If We Want to End Sexual Violence, We Have to Change the Way Adults Talk About It

Trigger Warning: Sexual Violence, Rape

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Some weeks (months?) ago, the news broke out that a high school near me was embroiled in a horrific sexual violence case. At first, the media kept referring to it as “hazing”. After a lot of push back, the media and community have started to use the terms sexual assault. Hazing in itself is not okay and can often be deadly, but by calling it hazing the language was minimizing the sexual violence that was taking place. This is just one of the many ways I have seen this case discussed that have caused a lot of concern for me.

Before I begin talking about the fall out, let me share what I can about the case. Originally, five students from a team sporting event were arrested for “hazing” fellow team mates in the locker room. This “hazing” involved male team mates violating other male team mates in ways that are too clearly sexual assault and rape.

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I’m not here to talk about the case, because at this point it’s an ongoing investigation and what I have heard is all media reports, speculation and rumors. But I am here to talk about the way adults in the community talked about it after the news broke. As often happens, we learned about this via the media and people began to share the news on Facebook. Soon, the comments started flowing and, as always happens, the comments reveal how much of a problem adults and the way that adults view and talk about sexual violence contribute to the problem. We can’t change the culture of sexual abuse until we change the way adults talk to and about sexual violence.

Of course one of the first statements that started pouring out was: BOYS WILL BE BOYS. This is a false and harmful statement. A vast majority of boys and men never sexually violate others, because they can in fact practice self control and restraint. Make no mistake, sexual violence happens a lot, but this idea that “boys will be boys” is a harmful beginning point. It excuses male behavior by suggesting that men are primarily oriented towards violence and that they lack the ability to learn, grown and practice self control. Not only is this statement untrue and harmful, but men should be angry at what this presupposes about them. Men can and should be held accountable for their actions. These boys made a choice to violate others, they should be held responsible for that choice.

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Many other respondents tried to excuse the specifics of this case by suggesting that THIS HAPPENS EVERYWHERE. While I hope that is statistically untrue and that a majority of high schools don’t have rampant sexual abuse happening in their locker rooms, I want to know why the adults felt comfortable shrugging this off as ‘it happens everywhere” instead of demanding to know if it does, in fact, happen everywhere, then how can we stop it because it’s not okay. Even if it happens somewhere else, why are we willing to accept it as happening in our communities and to our children? If it does happen at other communities, what can we do in our local community to change the culture and make our kids safe? A child who wants to participate in sports should not have to be willing to submit themselves to abuse in order to participate. That is an unacceptable starting point. Students involved in extracurricular events should be held to a higher standard, not a lesser one.

Many commenters reported that this had in fact been going on in this specific school for years and others wanted to know if that was true, then why hadn’t someone spoken out sooner. WHY DIDN’T THEY REPORT IT SOONER is a very common talking point. Well, it turns out that some may have but, as frequently happens when reporting sexual violence, their complaints were ignored. But the comments themselves reveal why those who are victims of abuse don’t come forward. Revealing abuse in this type of setting often puts the victims in an even more dangerous position. Now they must navigate the hallways of their school with a target on their back as the investigation happens and the popular kids – and the abusers are often the popular kids – harass, bully, and vilify them. Or they are pulled out for their safety and everything about their lives is suddenly upended. And if their families stay in the community, they are forced to live among a life-time reminders and triggers. There are so many very real systemica barriers to victims of sexual violence coming forward and reporting. And that doesn’t even get into the shame, guilt, self-blame and questioning that can happen before a victim is even ready to come forward. There are both personal and systemic barriers that can cause a delay in when an event happens and when it is reported. And truthfully, statistically we know that a large number of victims will never report because those barriers are very real.

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Especially when a sports team is involved, the victim who comes forward can be seen as a traitor because the sad truth is, we live in a culture that puts winning and sports above individual suffering. A lot of wrong doing is swept under the rug to keep the momentum of a winning sports team going because they produce revenue and positive PR. And make no mistake, PR is very important to schools and communities. The rating and success of local schools helps to attract new business, and new business equals growth, and growth equals money. The book MOXIE by Jennifer Matthieu does a good job of highlighting what can happen when students try to change the culture of sexual violence in a high school.

There has also been some question of which adults knew what and when, and whether or not things were covered up. A lot of people have come to these educators defense and suggested that this is a one time mistake and overall, they are good people. This is something we see again and again when we talk about racism and sexual violence, the explaining away of abusive behavior because overall, this person is really a good person. I can’t speak to what these adults knew and when, but if they knew and failed to act to protect the victims immediately, then they failed these children and may have engaged in criminal behavior (teachers are mandated reporters) and they don’t deserve to be in this position again. When I and other parents send their children to school, we need the full confidence of knowing that teachers and staff will protect our children, respond to their concerns, and follow the rules of the district and the law that has been established to help keep our kids safe.

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As someone who works with teens, I am frequently put in the position of having to determine how to respond when I have concerns about a teen’s safety. It is, in fact, a hard position to be in. As a public librarian, I’m not a mandated reporter and I often don’t have enough information, but I have gone to my administration frequently and said here’s my concern and we worked out how to respond and report. I have made many a call to either the police or the children’s protective services. I do not in any way seek to diminish how hard it is to be put in these positions because I have been often and it is no easy task. There are situations that I have been involved in that will probably haunt me until the day I die as having to wrestle with the safety of others is a hard position to be in. But I’m also a mother and a sexual violence survival and I want our go to response to always be: protect the children immediately.

As I read through the comments on several articles around this case, I was continually appalled by the way the adults talked about these events. My heart broke for the victims that might wander into these online forums and read what others were saying about this case (and I really hope that they don’t). And as always happens when I read the comments on reports of sexual violence, my heart broke again and again for the way that we blame and talk about victims, the way we fail to understand the hurdles that victims must face to come forward and be taken seriously, and the way that their life is shifted not just by the abuse itself, but by the way that others respond when they do come forward and ask for help to make their world safer. Sexual violence victims are abused over and over again by the ways that we talk about sexual violence in our culture.

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And in this post, I continue to use the term victims as opposed to survivors because these teens are in the thick of it. They are victims. One day, they will work through the events of what happened to them and may choose to label themselves as survivors, but this is new and real and raw and we are just learning that they are victims. They are victims that by all accounts this community has failed and is continuing to fail.

I have worked with teens in public libraries for 24 years and this is the first time that I personally have heard about a case like this and so close to home. This school is not my child’s school nor is it a school in the district in which I work and serve, but it’s not a story in a YA novel – it’s a very real community that affects the lives of people I love and respect. And as I read through the comments all I could think was this: we still have so much work to do to break down the toxic ways in which we respond to and talk about real life sexual violence. Yes, talking about it with our kids and helping to change it for the next generation is an important part of the process, but we have to also do the work of changing the way that adults talk about and respond to reports of sexual violence.

Some of my friends did a really good job of doing this work. They went online and repeatedly used the term sexual assault every time someone tried to downplay this as merely playful hazing. Many others reminded commenters that boys will be boys is an unacceptable statement. And these are the things we must do, over and over again. Use language and challenge others to use language that speak truth to the horrific nature of crimes of sexual violence. Call the language out, redirect the language, make sure that headlines and comments focus on the true nature of these crimes. We must do the work to continually challenge the way that we talk about sexual violence to help change the culture (when and if you can, I know that if you are a survivor yourself that this can be challenging.)

Things we can do:

  • Call out problematic language
  • Call out slut shaming
  • Call out victim blaming
  • Tell our family, friends and coworkers that jokes about rape and sexual violence are not okay. When someone tries to make a joke, point out that the joke is not acceptable.
  • Contact the media immediately when we see problematic headlines or reporting. For example, make sure they use active voice which highlights that sexual violence is a choice of the abuser instead of focusing on passive voice.
  • Redirect any questions or comments about the victim back onto the abuser. If someone says why were they there, re-direct and ask why did the abuser think it was okay to abuse someone.
  • Arm yourself with facts from RAINN and other organizations. Facts are important when discussing issues.
  • Familiarize yourself with the issues surrounding reporting, the obstacles for victims, and the many reasons why victims postpone or choose to never report. Knowing this information helps when people ask why they didn’t report right away.
  • Understand and remind others that everyone responds to sexual violence differently and no one owes us their story or their advocacy. Many survivors will choose to become advocates, but others don’t and that is also okay. Everyone gets to heal and talk about their experiences in their own way.
  • Make sure where you work has a solid sexual harassment/violence policy in place and that all staff are trained on the policy.

Systemic change calls for systemic solutions. We have to address the issues on as many fronts as possible. Lots of people are doing great work writing for and talking about these issues with kids and teens, but it’s not enough. We as adults have to change the conversation among ourselves.

#MeToo: Teens, Libraries and Sexual Harassment

svyalitOver recent weeks, a wide variety of discussion has been happening about sexual violence, harassment, and assault. These are important conversations that have wide reaching implications. Make no mistake, these things are also happening in the lives of our teens. With the discussion there has been a lot of sharing online with the hashtag #MeToo. This hashtag was begun years ago and became very active again in the past couple of weeks.

#MeToo: An activist, a little girl and the heartbreaking origin of ‘Me too’

#MeToo: Women are sharing their stories of sexual harassment

Many librarians are bringing this topic into their libraries by sharing book displays of titles that deal with the topic of sexual violence with a simple sign that says “#MeToo”. I think this is a relevant and important display for our teens. This IS a topic that they deal with, it is also a conversation that is happening right now. Our teens are online, plugged in and connected; they are very aware of the conversations and engaging in their own ways. We need to be relevant to our teens, which means we need to make sure that we are responding and putting up these types of displays. Some librarians have responded that they would not be allowed to put up a display of this nature because it is too political, but this is not about politics – this is about teens and their lives, the lives they live and the topics that they talk about. By the time they reach the age of 18, 1 in 4 or 5 will be the victims of sexual violence. And almost no female will graduate high school without experiencing some form of sexual harassment. My teenage daughter has already dealt with this on multiple occasions and it is a topic that we talk about often as I try and help her navigate how to stand up for herself and demand safety and respect. By the time they graduate high school almost all of our teen girls will be able to share their own #MeToo stories, and this is unacceptable.

svyalitbrochurepage1real talk sexual violence brochure page 2

If you are considering putting up your own #MeToo display, here are some book lists to that you can draw from.

#SVYALit: The Sexual Violence in YA Lit Project and Discussion – includes book reviews and book lists

13 YA Books About Sexual Assault And Rape Culture

#SJYALit: Ten Young Adult Novels for Sexual Assault Awareness

YA Books About Rape Culture, Fight Against Sexual Assualt

When Talking About Sexual Consent, YA Books Can Be A Parent’s Best Resource

9 Books That Are a Call to Action Against Rape Culture

#MeToo Book List by Barnes and Noble

On MOXIE, THE NOWHERE GIRLS, Current Events and the Power of Books

There has been a lot of very important discussion in the news this past couple of weeks about sexual harassment and abuse by men in positions of power, in no small part thanks to the revelations regarding Harvey Weinstein. Of course women know and have known for years that type of culture and abuse isn’t rare and isn’t limited to Hollywood, it’s everywhere. Yes, it’s even in our public school perpetrated by both teachers and students.

moxie

This year there are two really good books that discuss this very topic and The Teen has read them both.
She has also already enthusiastically passed them on to friends with the note that they need to read these books right now. After she finished reading the second book, The Nowhere Girls, she came and told me that she was going to put up boundaries! It turns out there is a male student at school who keeps touching her, not in obviously inappropriate ways but in ways that still made her feel uncomfortable and she felt like she couldn’t say anything about it because it was just her being “weird”. But the truth is that she hated it and wanted it to stop. She has since told him that he is not allowed to touch her without her permission. To be honest, I believe there were threats like, “if you touch me again without my permission I will break your arm.”

As a parent, it was amazing to watch her read these two books and apply them to her real life experiences. Without a doubt, they made her think and gave her a sense of empowerment that she needed for a real life situation. As a librarian, it just reinforced for me that yes, what we do is important. Access to stories are important and powerful and although I see it in action every day, it doubly meaningful to see it in action with my daughter.

nowheregirls

I am the survivor of sexual abuse. The first time that a man ever touched my breast without my permission was when I was in the 6th grade. It was not the last time. I have been sexually harassed at work, and once a male colleague reported that HE was uncomfortable having witnessed it yet nothing happened. When these stories come out, women are not surprised. They know. And we are not surprised by the silence of women, because we understand how and why that happens as well. When we tell, we are doubted, condemned, and sometimes suffer great losses, like family, friendships and yes, jobs and reputation. Victims of sexual violence are never in a position of power, which is what men accused of sexual abuse like Harvey Weinstein and even Donald Trump are counting on (adding allegedly here to protect myself legally).

It would be nice to think that reactions this week mean the tide is finally turning, but at the same time our current president is on tape talking about how he can get away with this very thing because “they let you” because he’s famous. So while men are saying things like this ends now, women in the know recognize that it needed to end decades ago – and this will still probably not be the things that makes it end. But books can help. Book reveal what we try to keep hidden in the dark, they enlighten, and they empower. It’s not the only thing that is needed, but we definitely need them.


  1. So speaking of creepy dudes and sexual harassment, let me share a story about The Teen and events of this week. A thread.


  2. So The Teen recently read both MOXIE by @jenmathieu and THE NOWHERE GIRLS by Amy Reed. She loved them both. AND she told me


  3. @jenmathieu there is a boy at school who always touches her in creepy ways. Massaging her shoulders. Poking her belly. And it made her uncomfortable


  4. @jenmathieu but she thought it was just her being weird. But she read the books and declared, I'M DRAWING PERSONAL BOUNDARIES and telling this guy


  5. @jenmathieu that he can't touch me without my permission. Which, hell yes! And these important books helped her realize this & empowered her. Thank you!


  6. @jenmathieu Also, every girl. Every. Single. One. Will deal with this at some point. And speaking up is hard & can be costly. Careers, reputation, etc


  7. @jenmathieu And they always try to make it seem innocent but they are definitely not. They are trying to satisfy personal needs - power, thrills - at


  8. @jenmathieu the expense and comfort of another. And when girls speak up, they are ungrateful bitches, or manipulative, or vindictive. We as a society


  9. @jenmathieu need to change the narrative and call it what it is and recognize it as a non consensual violation of another person.


  10. @jenmathieu It's so normalized for girls she - who tells me everything - didn't even think to come talk to me about this. It's just the way things are.


  11. @jenmathieu And I obviously think every collection should have and everyone should read BOTH Moxie and The Nowhere Girls. Yes, both of them. We need


  12. @jenmathieu the message repeated and reinforced in multiple ways to help break down rape culture and change the discourse. Get them both. The end.

About Moxie

Moxie girls fight back!

Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with her small-town Texas high school that thinks the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes and hallway harassment. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.

Viv’s mom was a punk rock Riot Grrrl in the ’90s, so now Viv takes a page from her mother’s past and creates a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond. Pretty soon Viv is forging friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, and she realizes that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution.

About The Nowhere Girls

Three misfits come together to avenge the rape of a fellow classmate and in the process trigger a change in the misogynist culture at their high school transforming the lives of everyone around them in this searing and timely story.

Who are the Nowhere Girls?

They’re everygirl. But they start with just three:

Grace Salter is the new girl in town, whose family was run out of their former community after her southern Baptist preacher mom turned into a radical liberal after falling off a horse and bumping her head.

Rosina Suarez is the queer punk girl in a conservative Mexican immigrant family, who dreams of a life playing music instead of babysitting her gaggle of cousins and waitressing at her uncle’s restaurant.

Erin Delillo is obsessed with two things: marine biology and Star Trek: The Next Generation, but they aren’t enough to distract her from her suspicion that she may in fact be an android.

When Grace learns that Lucy Moynihan, the former occupant of her new home, was run out of town for having accused the popular guys at school of gang rape, she’s incensed that Lucy never had justice. For their own personal reasons, Rosina and Erin feel equally deeply about Lucy’s tragedy, so they form an anonymous group of girls at Prescott High to resist the sexist culture at their school, which includes boycotting sex of any kind with the male students.

Told in alternating perspectives, this groundbreaking novel is an indictment of rape culture and explores with bold honesty the deepest questions about teen girls and sexuality.

Resources: #SVYALit and #MHYALit – Teens and Suicide, Teens and Sexual Violence Brochures

Due in part to the discussions I have been having surrounding the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why, I made an informational brochure on the topics of suicide and sexual violence for the teens at my library. I am posting them here for you and you can use them if you would like. A few notes though.

One, these contain titles that I currently have in my library on the subjects. I have been working on my next book order and I am working to make sure to include highly recommended titles and titles that feature diverse MC or are Own Voices on these subjects in my next book order.

Two, I think you can easily make corrections or additions by downloading book covers you have in your collection and overlaying them in a graphics program if you wish.

Three, we checked multiple times because I’m me for typos, so I hope there aren’t any.

I am also working on one to address the current drug/opioid crisis that we are witnessing nationwide and in the county that I serve, but that one is taking a little more time. I could quickly pull information off of TLT to make these two given some of our past projects, but I am just mow starting to really dive into the facts and figures of the opioid crisis.

svyalitbrochurepage1

real talk sexual violence brochure page 2

real talk sucide brochure page 1

real talk suicide brochure page 2

 

#SJYALit: Rape Culture–Twenty-five years ago and today, a guest post by Clara Kensie

sjyalit1992. My senior year in college. It’s Friday night, and I go with some of my sorority sisters to a local restaurant for burgers and cheese fries before we start our round of fraternity parties. There are a couple of pool tables in the bar area, so we play a game while we wait to be seated. As I lean over the pool table to take a shot, I feel something thin and hard rubbing between my legs.

Shocked, I turn around to see a guy in his mid-twenties standing a couple feet behind me, smiling, rubbing his pool cue between my legs. I move away. A few minutes later, he does it again. I roll my eyes and shake my head, and move again. A few minutes later, he closes in, backing me up against the pool table, and I have to push him aside to get away.

Pool Cue Guy is angry and humiliated. He was just trying to meet me, he says, and he doesn’t understand why I would push him. His friends overhear, and one of them calls me a bitch. Pool Cue Guy calls me a slut.

I’m upset, but I’m also embarrassed, so I say nothing. I have dinner with my friends, avoiding Pool Cue Guy’s glares from across the restaurant, and slink away as soon as we’re done eating.

Pool Cue Guy had a right to be offended that I rejected him. I should have been flattered by his aggressive attraction to me.

Those sentences are appalling when stated so plainly like that—and wow, I am furious as I write them—but beliefs like these are instilled in us practically from birth.

  • We dress baby girls in onesies that say “Sweetie Pie” or “Daddy’s Little Princess.” We dress baby boys in onesies that say “Here Comes Trouble” or “Future Ladies’ Man.”
  • In the name of politeness, well-meaning parents insist their toddlers greet adults with a hug or a kiss, even if the child doesn’t want to.
  • On the playground girls are told, “He’s teasing/chasing/hitting you because he likes you.”
  • In school, boys’ behavior, concentration, and academic problems are often blamed on girls. In some schools, dress codes are enforced by sending girls home to change—denying girls their education so boys can continue theirs without distraction.
  • When a drunk girl is raped, the alcohol condemns her. “She was drunk, no wonder she got raped.” When a drunk boy rapes, the alcohol excuses him. “He was drunk, it wasn’t his fault.”
  • We teach girls that they are to blame when boys objectify or sexualize them against their wishes.
  • Over and over again we are told “boys will be boys.” We are lead to believe that men and boys simply have no control over their sexual actions. But while most men are rightfully insulted by this saying—of course men and boys have control over their own actions— many people view “boys will be boys” as an excuse, and an expectation, of bad behavior.

Beliefs like these made Pool Cue Guy think it was okay to pursue me by rubbing a stick between my legs. Beliefs like these that made me not tell him no, made me not tell the manager, made me feel ashamed.

aftermath 2As I recall that incident today, twenty-five years later, I’m no longer ashamed, but want to yell at my college-age self for letting him approach me three times before pushing him away. And now I want to yell at my current self for instinctively writing the words letting him” in the previous sentence. Shouldn’t my initial, gut reaction have been to yell not at myself, but at Pool Cue Guy? I’m blaming myself for his actions, still, twenty five years later.

This is rape culture.

Rape culture goes beyond a guy rubbing a pool cue between a girl’s legs. It goes all the way to the people who make and enforce our laws. Our court system often prevents sexual assault victims from attaining justice, and in at least one case has even prohibited the victim from using the word “rape” while testifying. Our current vice president will not meet one-on-one with women. Our current president bragged about his sexual assault of women, then dismissed it as “locker room talk”—which is itself rape culture. Yet we elected these men to lead our country.

I admit, sometimes it feels pretty hopeless. But our society is becoming more aware of rape culture. We’re recognizing the things we all do to contribute it, and we’re speaking out and fighting against it.

How do we stop rape culture? How do we change the way an entire society views sex and gender? We start at the place it began: at home. I have two kids now, a boy and a girl, both teenagers. I have never forced them to give hugs as a greeting or kisses a thank-you for a gift. I don’t dictate their clothing or hairstyles because I don’t have ownership of their bodies, they do. I encourage them to ask questions about sex, and I answer honestly and without judgement or shame. I regularly educate them about equality and respect and autonomy and consent. We talk about politics, we know who our politicians are, and my eighteen-year-old son votes. We discuss how obvious things such as dress codes, slut-shaming, and the Steubenville and Brock Turner cases, as well as seemingly innocuous things like the movie Passengers, perpetuate rape culture.

And I know that if Pool Cue Guy did that to either of my kids today, their reactions would be completely different than mine was.

Note: Many of the examples I gave in this post focus on women and girls as the victims, but I want to point out that men and boys can be victims of rape too. According to this report by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives. One in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before age 18.

YOUR TURN: Have you ever blamed yourself for someone else’s actions? What are other ways our society perpetuates rape culture? What can we do to change that?

 

 

About AFTERMATH by Clara Kensie

aftermath coverNovember 2016, Merit Press, an imprint of Simon and Schuster

Charlotte survived four long years as a prisoner in the attic of her kidnapper, sustained only by dreams of her loving family. The chance to escape suddenly arrives, and Charlotte fights her way to freedom. But an answered prayer turns into heartbreak. Losing her has torn her family apart. Her parents have divorced: Dad’s a glutton for fame, Mom drinks too much, and Charlotte’s twin is a zoned-out druggie. Her father wants Charlotte write a book and go on a lecture tour, and her mom wants to keep her safe, a virtual prisoner in her own home. But Charlotte is obsessed with the other girl who was kidnapped, who never got a second chance at life–the girl who nobody but Charlotte believes really existed. Until she can get justice for that girl, even if she has to do it on her own, whatever the danger, Charlotte will never be free.

 

Young Adult Books Central Top Ten Books of 2016

Goodreads Most Popular Books Published in November 2016

Children’s Book Review Best New Young Adult Books November 2016

 

Find AFTERMATH at your favorite bookstore, including:

Amazon   Barnes & Noble   Books-A-Million   Indiebound

“Kensie writes a powerful novel about the will to survive under terrifying circumstances and the impact of a kidnapping—and its aftermath .. .The cast of supporting characters is well developed and strong. Give this to readers who love gripping, heart-wrenching tales of hope and survival.” VOYA Magazine

“Charlotte’s bravery will inspire readers. Her ongoing struggle to confront the horror of what she’s endured rings true, and her recovery process could provide therapeutic reading for rape survivors. Teens who revel in worst-case scenario stories like Natasha Preston’s The Cellar and Kevin Brooks’s The Bunker Diary will enjoy the shocking plot twists.” School Library Journal

“A gut-wrenching, emotional tale of a teen who is found after being abducted. There’s…also a ray of hope in this story. This makes this book stand out among the others out there. Charlotte goes from being a victim of horrific abuse to a survivor. The ending chapter is perfect. A story of hope and the power of love.” –YA Books Central
“For all of us who have watched the chilling news of kidnapped females rescued and thought ‘There but for the grace of God’ and ‘How do they go on?’…here is the answer fully imagined, exquisitely written, ultimately triumphant. You will cry all the way through this story but you will not put it down.” ~Jennifer Echols, award-winning author of Going Too Far

“Kensie deftly explores what happens after the supposedly happy ending of a nightmare. But nothing is as simple as it seems–not even the truth.” ~April Henry, author of The Girl I Used to BeGirl, Stolen; and The Night She Disappeared

“A captivating story of self-(re)discovery, Clara Kensie’s Aftermath introduces us to Charlotte, a sixteen-year-old girl trying hard to reclaim her place in a family decimated by her kidnapping four years earlier. Charlotte wants only to catch up to her twin Alexa and live out all the plans they’d made as children, but finds the journey back to ‘normal’ is not only hers to take. Charlotte is a heroine to cheer for…with gut-twisting bravery and raw honesty, she takes us through that journey–back to the unspeakable tortures she endured in captivity and forward to how those years scarred her family, leaving us intensely hopeful and confident that she will not merely survive, but triumph.” ~Patty Blount, author of Some BoysSendTMI; and Nothing Left to Burn

“Delving deep into the darkness of abduction and its ‘Aftermath,’ Kensie takes us on an unflinching journey of healing, courage, and triumph of the human spirit. Heartbreaking, yet stubbornly hopeful.” ~Sonali Dev, author of A Bollywood Affair and The Bollywood Bride

Aftermath is a timely, powerful portrait of hope amid tragedy, strength amid brokenness, and the healing power of forgiveness.” ~Erica O’Rourke, award-winning author of the Torn trilogy and the Dissonance series

“Gripping, powerful, deeply moving, Aftermath is a book I didn’t want to end. It’s written with such compassion that it will help readers heal. A must-read.” ~Cheryl Rainfield, author of Scars and Stained

 

Meet Clara Kensie, author of dark fiction for young adults

…don’t forget to breathe…

ClaraClara Kensie grew up near Chicago, reading every book she could find and using her diary to write stories about a girl with psychic powers who solved mysteries. She purposely did not hide her diary, hoping someone would read it and assume she was writing about herself. Since then, she’s swapped her diary for a computer and admits her characters are fictional, but otherwise she hasn’t changed one bit.

 

Today Clara is a RITA© Award-winning author of dark fiction for young adults. Her super-romantic psychic thriller series, Run To You, was named an RT Book Review Editors Pick for Best Books of 2014, and Run to You Book One: Deception So Deadly, is the winner of the prestigious 2015 RITA© Award for Best First Book.

 

Clara’s latest release is Aftermath, a dark, ripped-from-the-headlines YA contemporary in the tradition of Room and The Lovely Bones. Aftermath (Simon and Schuster/Merit Press) is on Goodreads’ list of Most Popular Books Published in November 2016, and Young Adult Books Central declared it a Top Ten Book of 2016.
Clara’s favorite foods are guacamole and cookie dough. But not together. That would be gross.

 

Find Clara online:

Website  Newsletter  Instagram  Twitter   Facebook  Insiders  Goodreads

 

#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