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#SJYALit: Walk A Mile In Their Shoes, a guest post by Christina June

sjyalitWhen I was in grad school, a required course for my degree was Multicultural Counseling.  An assignment in that class was to do something outside “your box” so you could experience what it feels like to be uncomfortable, maybe even upset, at what was happening around you.  It could be something as small as watching a movie or going to a restaurant.  My professor, an African-American woman, even offered to take any of us who wanted to go to her Baptist church.  One of my peers, a young white Morman guy, took her up on it.  She told us whatever experience we chose was to help us learn empathy for those who were different from us.  So we would be able to put our own biases aside when helping clients or students who came from different backgrounds.

 

At 22, I took that message with me not only during that assignment, but for every assignment, every client session, every interaction, then and now.  Though I’d been lucky to grow up in a fairly diverse area of the country, I’m aware that not everyone has the opportunity to interact regularly with people who are different from them.

 

With the chaotic political climate of the US, it’s hard not to see the cracks that have always been present widening into canyons.  The differences in philosophies on life are staggering and frankly, for me, confusing.  I think back to that class in grad school all the time and wish more people could get out of their boxes.  They way I see it, it all boils down to this:

 

  1. Some people are selfish.
  2. Some people are not selfish.

 

Sounds harsh, I know, but hear me out.  When I say selfish, I don’t mean a little kid who doesn’t want to share his toys.  I mean someone who puts their personal interests first, before the needs of the masses.  Someone who lacks empathy and compassion.  Someone who is unable to put themselves in the mind and body of someone else for a little while.  I’ll admit there are times when acting on one’s own behalf is important, but most of the time, when we think about the greater good, everyone wins.  Seems pretty simple, yeah?

 

But what if you’re not there yet?  This is where books can make a huge difference.

 

Books magically allow a reader to put themselves in the head of a narrator for several hours and feel what they feel.  They allow a reader to experience different ways of life—try them on for a little while—which can lead to greater understanding of others.  And once we realize that experiences are universal, it’s easy to see we’re more alike than not.

 

hate-uHave you lost a friend to tragedy?  Pick up THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas.

 

Is your romantic relationship complicated by your family dynamics?  Try IT’S NOT LIKE IT’S A SECRET by Misa Suguira or GIRL MANS UP by M-E Girard.

 

Feel like you’re the only one hiding something?  Check out THE THING WITH FEATHERS by McCall Hoyle.

 

 

It’s much easier to fight for your friends than strangers, right?  If you know someone, what they’ve been through, the specifics of their life and their struggles, you’re more likely to go to bat for them.  You’d probably think that fight was worth your time.  Books can help kids make new friends that’ll stick with them for their whole life and inform which battles they’re willing to walk into.  And the earlier they learn these lessons, the better off all of us will be.

 

Teachers, librarians, booksellers, mentors—they are all magicians.  They have the unique and tremendously important ability to put books in the hands of kids who need something.  Maybe they need that new friend.  Any book has the potential to change—or even save—a life.  Books can have a ripple effect for years and years and it is my sincere hope that the amazing books that are being written right now will make long-lasting impressions on young readers.

 

I don’t expect—or want—all my neighbors to look like me, love like me, or believe like me.  Many agree with me, but many do not.  However, I’m optimistic that the more we learn about others, the more we will consider them in our decisions.

 

Make new friends.  We’re all in this together.  There’s no I in Team.  Walk a mile in their shoes.  Together we stand, divided we fall.

 

We’re better when we lose the selfish and work to make sure everyone feels supported.  Books are a great starting point.

 

Meet Christina June

View More: http://hannahbjorndalphotography.pass.us/authorchristinajuneChristina June writes young adult contemporary fiction when she’s not writing college recommendation letters during her day job as a school counselor.  She loves the little moments in life that help someone discover who they’re meant to become – whether it’s her students or her characters.  Christina is a voracious reader, loves to travel, eats too many cupcakes, and hopes to one day be bicoastal – the east coast of the US and the east coast of Scotland.  She lives in Virginia with her husband and daughter.  Her debut novel, IT STARTED WITH GOODBYE, was released in May 2017, and a companion, EVERYWHERE YOU WANT TO BE, will be available in 2018.

 

About IT STARTED WITH GOODBYE by Christina June

goodbyeSixteen-year-old Tatum Elsea is bracing for the worst summer of her life. After being falsely accused of a crime, she’s stuck under stepmother-imposed house arrest and her BFF’s gone ghost. Tatum fills her newfound free time with community service by day and working at her covert graphic design business at night, which includes trading emails with a cute cello-playing client. If Tatum is reading his emails right, her virtual Prince Charming is funny, smart, and talented—and he seems to think the same about her. Too bad he’s spending his summer across the ocean in Ireland…not that Tatum would be allowed to go on a date anyway.

But over the course of the summer, Tatum will learn that sometimes going after what you want means breaking all the rules. And when Tatum discovers she’s not the only one in the house keeping secrets, she finds she has the chance to make amends with her family and friends. Equipped with a new perspective, and assisted by her feisty step-abuela-slash-fairy-godmother, Tatum is ready to start fresh and maybe even get her happy ending along the way. A modern play on the Cinderella story arc, Christina June’s IT STARTED WITH GOODBYE will appeal to fans of Sarah Dessen, Stephanie Perkins, and Jennifer E. Smith.

 

#SJYALit: Time For Confrontation: Moving Forward in the Diversity Conversation, a guest post by S. K. Ali

sjyalitThe first time I saw myself, I got scared. I was twelve and I’d brought my plate of lentils and rice into the living room in order to sit beside my dad as he watched the news. And there she was: a girl like me. On television.

The girl had on a blue hijab exactly like the one I wore to school. But this girl wasn’t going to school. She was getting bombed — by “our” side.

I remember the scene vividly; remember how my chewing slowed and how my father shook his head and how I felt a profound sense of disruption, of dissonance.

I mean I’d never seen people who looked like me on TV before. And this first time wasn’t fun TV like my favorite show, The Facts of Life.

This was my earliest memory — a searing one — of seeing myself represented, or rather, myself presented to me. I wish I could say that things got better but of course they didn’t. Due to the subsequent Gulf Wars and the North American media coverage of them, as well as books and films set abroad featuring the Sad Plight of Muslim Girls, I only saw Muslim women who were either to be hated or pitied.

Growing up, looking in the mirror meant seeing the negativity surrounding my Muslim identity reflected back, almost web-like over my real self.

Viewing yourself as others have misconstrued you either silences you or enrages you. Both these outcomes are detrimental — at the individual as well as societal level.

And here, I pause to present my privilege. I hope when you’re reading it, you think of those without this privilege and the depth of internalized pain carried around as a result.

When I think of the girl sitting beside her father, eating lentils and rice, watching the news, I also see the bookshelves lining the walls behind her.

I was fortunate to live in a home housing knowledge that challenged this negative view of myself — my father’s library had hundreds of books on Islam and Muslims that told another story — and so I was able to see through the web disfiguring me.

Yet still, the knowledge of self that I gleaned from my family, our home library, the mosque, and Muslim events stayed on a parallel course, a far one, from the “knowledge” about Muslims served daily on the news and at school by teachers who talked about “them” while one of “them” was sitting right there in her hijab.

The two streams of knowledge never met because to merge them would mean confrontation and I hated confrontation.

But then one more frustrating, negative news story about people like me led me to a decision at seventeen: I would tear at the web strands that disguised who I truly was. If it meant challenging things publicly – in classrooms, on the streets, writing to newspapers, so be it. If it meant confrontation, so be it.

Much of my University years were spent fighting Islamophobia, including undertaking a yearlong research paper surveying the depiction of Muslim women in popular culture.

This thesis, written over twenty years ago, documented the negativity surrounding Muslim identity, in particular female Muslim identity. It pains me to say that so very little has changed.

With one exciting exception.

The exception is a result of an intersection of sorts, a confrontational intersection.

The point at which real, dynamic change occurs. Where real stories, real characters, real art emerges.

The intersection happens when the authentic knowledge we hold about ourselves as we truly are, as members of marginalized communities, confronts the knowledge about us that has been in circulation for years, or, in many cases, centuries.

To have these streams of knowledge run parallel to each other, never meeting, has proven to be dangerous. The increase in hate crimes and policies affecting certain communities disproportionally provides that proof.

Old, untrue narratives hurt, internally and externally. They’re also same-old, same-old boring.

But now, we’re seeing an increase in stories arising that challenge the old. The exciting exception.

Ali - Saints and MisfitsOver the past few years, the invaluable work of diversity advocates like WNDB brought the important task of changing the publishing landscape to the fore. The #ownvoices movement sharpened the focus and asked us to consider the important question: who gets to tell “diverse” stories?

Earlier this year, #MuslimShelfSpace asked readers to reflect on whether they were making space for Muslim-authored content in the face of increased Islamophobia.

Who gets to tell stories featuring Muslims? I say it’s the children who grew up — who are growing up still — unable to see themselves clearly when they look in the mirror.

They’re the ones with the stories you’ve probably never heard. They’re the ones who’ll confront the same-old.

They’re the ones with Art to share.

Meet S.K. Ali

SKAliPicPrintS.K. Ali is the author of Saints and Misfits. She has written on Muslim culture and life for various media.

 

 

 

About SAINTS AND MISFITS by S.K. Ali

Saints 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.

#SJYALit: Teens Taking Action in YA Fiction, a guest post by Robin Talley

sjyalitA lot of the teens I know are more passionate about social justice than the adults in their lives.

Which isn’t surprising. Teens are in the process of forming their identities and opinions, and in many cases, they’re learning about social justice issues or deepening their understanding of them for the first time. In the U.S., with our new terrifying-on-all-levels presidential administration and a congressional majority that’s actively trying to harm many of the very people who voted them into office, plenty of people of all ages are more tuned in to politics than ever before ― and more and more are turning their engagement into hands-on activism.

For teens eager to read about political activism in their fiction, too, here are a few of my favorite recent YAs (and one MG) that showcase teens cutting their activist teeth for the first time.

(Note: Since many of these stories focus on the characters’ arcs toward activism, there may be some mild spoilers in the descriptions below.)

hate-uThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017).

One of the biggest (and certainly one of the best) YA novels of this year, this Black Lives Matter-inspired story focuses on a teenage girl who witnesses a friend’s murder and struggles through grief and complicated community dynamics to speak out about police brutality.

 

 

 

 

 

symptomsSymptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin (2016).

Riley, the genderfluid teen narrator, becomes an accidental activist thanks to their posts on a Tumblr-like social network and is forced to decide whether to abandon their online anonymity by taking a stand in person.

 

 

 

 

 

 

this side of homeThis Side of Home by Renée Watson (2015).

High school senior Maya and her twin sister Nikki disagree about the effects of gentrification on their Portland neighborhood. As student council president, Maya embraces her role as a community leader but isn’t sure how to reconcile her feelings about the changes happening around her with her longstanding ambitions.

 

 

 

 

 

all americanAll-American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (2015).

In alternating chapters, this collaborative novel examines the aftermath of a police officer’s assault on an unarmed teenager from the perspectives of the black victim and a white classmate who witnesses the attack, climaxing in a Black Lives Matter-inspired demonstration.

 

 

 

 

 

the summer princeThe Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson (2013).

In this alternate-history sci-fi story, protagonist June Costa starts out as an attention-seeking young artist and slowly finds herself using her art to make a statement greater than herself as she joins a team fighting back against the unethical leadership of her isolated, matriarchal community.

 

 

 

 

 

two boysTwo Boys Kissing by David Levithan (2013).

One of the most-challenged books of last year according to ALA, this novel features several loosely connected stories centered on gay characters, including two teenage boys who try to set the record for the world’s longest kiss as a statement in protest of a hate crime committed against a friend.

 

 

 

 

 

differenceThe Difference Between You and Me by Madeleine George (2012).

Two girls engaged in a passionate secret romance ― one closeted, one not ― wind up on opposite sides of a community-wide argument about the influence of a Wal-Mart-like corporation on their town, leading one of the girls to initiate a major protest at their school prom.

 

 

 

 

 

onecrazysummerOne Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia (2010).

This middle-grade historical novel follows 11-year-old Delphine as she shepherds her two younger sisters through a tense summer living with their estranged mother in Oakland, Calif., where they attend a summer camp led by the Black Panthers and ultimately play a key role in a rally against injustice.

 

 

 

 

 

Meet Robin Talley

Robin Talley - Low ResRobin Talley is the New York Times bestselling author of four novels for teen readers: Our Own Private Universe, As I Descended, What We Left Behind and Lies We Tell Ourselves, all of which focus on LGBTQ characters. Robin lives in Washington, D.C. with her wife and daughter, and she enjoys reading about queer characters, analyzing Disney movies, and chocolate. You can find her at www.robintalley.com.

 

 

 

#SJYALit: The X-Men and the social justice of diverse brains (Or, Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not a hero), a guest post by Rachel Gold

sjyalitWhen I was twelve and in my fifth year of getting bullied at school, I discovered a place where people could go to learn to use their powers for good, to band together against prejudice, and to save the world: Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.

I had to spend part of my days in a world that increasingly hated me for being impulsive, smart, unruly, genderfluid and queer. But the rest of the time I had superpowered allies who struggled like I did and still managed to save the world.

In Marvel’s universe, many superpowers come from mutations in the human genome. And humanity is not sure how it feels about mutants — there’s a lot of envy, fear, and hatred.

Kitty Pryde’s acceptance to the School for Gifted Youngster’s wasn’t the easiest, but she learned early on that mutants have to help each other out! From Uncanny X-Men #129, published in Jan. 1980.

Kitty Pryde’s acceptance to the School for Gifted Youngster’s wasn’t the easiest, but she learned early on that mutants have to help each other out! From Uncanny X-Men #129, published in Jan. 1980.

The mutant superhero mindset remains one of the best I’ve found for talking about neurodiverse brains, queerness and gender diversity. The concept of neurodiversity comes from the movement to see brains on the autism spectrum (ASD) as a diverse way of thinking rather than a disorder. In addition to ASD, neurodiversity has been applied to ADD/ADHD and other diverse brain styles.

Too often the conversations around ADHD and ASD seem to be about brokenness and to push people to focus on what they can’t do. Sadly this is also still the case about queer/trans kids in too many parts of the world.

About twenty years ago, I learned that I have an ADHD brain and suddenly a lot of my early years made much more sense. I’ve been lucky to spend a lot more time in the superhero mindset than the broken/disorder mindset. My brain is more creative than 99% of the brains around me. And yes, maxing a brain for that kind of creativity has downsides too. Just like superpowers.

A powerful mindset

In the broken/disorder model, I spend way too much time trying to fix my weaknesses. I push myself to do things I’m bad at. But in the superhero model, I find allies to help with my weak spots and I train hard at what I’m best at. The world doesn’t need me to become adequate at doing paperwork — the world needs me to write books and solve problems is new ways.

The same is true of you. You don’t need to be good at 95% of the things you currently suck at. (As an adult, I have never needed to know how to make a bed. How to make appropriate eye contact, yes, that’s useful.) But the world needs you to excel with your particular gifts.

The superhero mindset doesn’t make life easy, but it makes it hopeful and gives us a clear path to success. It gives us the courage and impetus to keep going. It shows us that some powers are hard to control and we have work to do. In the X-Men, Cyclops can shoot lasers out of his eyes, but he can’t stop doing this and has to wear a special visor that controls his powers. Rogue can steal powers and memories with a touch and has to keep most of her skin covered all the time. The younger team, the New Mutants, all struggled with learning to control their powers.

Our mindset about our differences can empower us or cut us down. One of the key elements of social justice is human dignity. It’s much easier to connect to your dignity, and demand others treat you with dignity, if you see yourself as heroic rather than broken.

I spent a lot of time these days answering variations of the question, “Am I broken?” with: “No, you’re a superhero.” And seeing how many other people will real-life roleplay being superheroes with me. Not only do lots of them say yes, but they tend to get joyful about it. So, what are your superpowers?

Welcome to the School for Gifted Youngsters (and Adults). Here’s your homework:

  • Find stories that make you feel powerful.
  • Make and tell stories.
  • Find one person who gets your story.
  • Play SuperBetter, an online game that you play as the hero of your own life (www.superbetter.com).
  • If you’re new to comics, consider starting with: Ms. Marvel and Young Avengers.
  • Think about heroes, what makes a person heroic, how you are heroic.
  • Remember that heroes need downtime, rest and many allies.

About Rachel Gold

Rachel Gold_author photo_vert_mediumRachel Gold is the award-winning author of multiple queer and trans young adult novels—including Being Emily, the first young adult novel to tell the story of a trans girl from her perspective. Her latest novel, Nico & Tucker, is about love, nonbinary lives, healing and knowing who you really are. Rachel has an MFA in Writing and a day job in marketing, but is better known as an all around geek and avid gamer. For more information visit: www.rachelgold.com.

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

Introducing Asexuality, a guest post by Laura Perenic

sjyalitSometimes being Asexual feels like something I’m not instead something I am.  I am not heterosexual.  I am not homosexual.  I am not gay, lesbian, transgender, or bisexual.  I am the A at the end of LGBTQIA that many interpret to mean ally; the A for Asexual that sometimes gets left off. It is confusing and frustrating to be just 1% of the population.  I don’t know anyone beyond the internet who is Asexual. I’ve joined online groups and  read anything I can find.  Pages like AVEN – The Asexuality Visibility and Education Network gave me a lot of great information. But I still don’t feel connected to the community.  I do not speak for fellow Aces, our identifier of choice. Being Ace feels a bit anticlimactic.  I’ve never seen an Ace pride parade.  I didn’t have a big coming out.  When I reveal my status to people they tell me on some level they always knew.  If I was being so obvious it’s interesting that it took me so long to realize it for myself.

A great resource is The Asexuality Archive. They establish a definition of Asexual as “Asexuality is a sexual orientation, like heterosexuality or homosexuality, etc., but instead of being sexually attracted to men or women, asexual people are sexually attracted to no one.  This doesn’t mean we all hate sex or avoid it, it just means we don’t find people sexually attractive.”  The challenge of this definition is while encompassing the basics it still doesn’t include all the facets of being Ace.  Sexuality has a spectrum often represented with the terms in LGBTA.  Ace has its own spectrum and includes Grey-sexual and Demi-sexual.

Grey-sexual: An umbrella term for a person who falls between sexual and asexual on the spectrum. A demisexual person only rarely experiences sexual attraction or only under specific circumstances.

Demisexual: A person who only experiences sexual attraction to someone once they have formed a strong emotional bond to that person.

In school to say that I had no interest in dating would be an understatement.  Not only did I not want to date but I couldn’t understand people who did. The entire process seemed confusing and also something I wanted no part of.  Sure I dabbled, went to prom and played spin the bottle but the results were the same.  Or the lack of results. It can be difficult to click with people without sexual chemistry. Even if you don’t desire someone, you have a connection with people who date or marry because its something you yourself have done.  Unless you haven’t and things start to feel like a game where everyone else knows the rules.  Many years into being an adult I still had a lot of questions about why my interaction with people were so different.   I don’t know where I first learned the term Asexual. It felt more correct than anything I used to label myself.  When I began to reveal to people that I was Ace I was mostly happy with the response.  Many people told me that could tell that I was different but never really could explain it; choosing Ace seemed accurate to them as well.  Interestingly a lot of people still don’t know I am Ace.  This article will be a bit of an unmasking of for me. While I haven’t experienced a lot of overtly negative responses to being Ace the hardest part as with many things is just the lack of understanding.  I find that talking about it with people seems to make them profoundly uncomfortable.  They will change the conversation to nearly anything else rather than hear about my orientation.

I remember being at a Teen Think Tank training.  It’s a twice yearly conference in Ohio with lots of libraries who serve teens.  A speaker was reviewing new books to appeal to LGBTQIA teens.  When she got to A, when she actually shared books about being asexual I never felt so simultaneously visible and hidden.  I was thrilled that she found books with characters like myself. But I was still uncomfortable sharing that I was Ace.  I couldn’t bring myself to state my identity because then and now I still have this fear.  I still think of myself as what I am not.  How in this sex saturated society do I explain that I don’t want to have sex?  That I don’t feel sexually attracted to anyone regardless of gender? That I see beauty in a great variety of people.  That I don’t have a type.  I fear being called prude or frigid. I fear people trying to convert me.  I don’t always understand me but not being understood by others feels achingly daunting.

I admit when I read teen fiction I struggle to understand the motivations of the hormonally driven characters.  While teens at work are a constant source of puzzlement, the teens in books I read are even more of a conundrum.  For me books with Ace characters make such a strong impression. I recently read Haters by Jesse Andrews.  As Ash recounts that she neither likes boys or girls I really focused in on her character.  I thought to myself “yes, she is ace,” and I instantly understood her so much more.  With so few Aces to connect with in real life I am always alert for Asexual characters in Teen Fiction.  There are more options in Adult Fiction and even in film or on tv.  I was delighted to learn, as a lover of anime and manga, that many characters from Hayao Miyazaki’s films are thought to be Asexual. Most notably Nausicaä, from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind’s lead, Nausicaä. (Asexuality in Fiction). Check out the YALSA book list on Asexuality in Young Adult Fiction for more titles to explore. Another good source for general information is the Asexual Awareness Week site. 

ace flagAces identify each other with the black, white and purple Ace flag or similarly striped triangle.  The color scheme is common for clothing as well as our websites. Since asexual people prefer the term Ace you will see the use of the Ace symbol found on playing cards.  Within the Ace community we have some jewelry aspects we considering telling and some common references that help identity us within the group.  (I’m conflicted about saying more because I don’t want to out others as Ace. I think signs are for other Asexuals to find each other).

In media, social media and in my own life I would love to see more representations of the Asexual orientation.  It is far too easy to find references, comics and other content that treat my sexuality as of more a biological conundrum than a facet of humanity.  Being Asexual doesn’t make us all virgins, single or religiously pious.  I don’t want to speak for the whole Ace community.  There is a lot of variety in our 1% that includes Asexuals who do have sex, marry and have children.  I want Asexuality to be a legitimate part of the spectrum.

lauraMeet Laura Perenic

Laura Perenic lives in Ohio where she works as a youth services librarian. She enjoys spoiling her dog and getting up very early in the morning to run.

 

Book Review: The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Publisher’s description

lines we crossMichael likes to hang out with his friends and play with the latest graphic design software. His parents drag him to rallies held by their anti-immigrant group, which rails against the tide of refugees flooding the country. And it all makes sense to Michael.

Until Mina, a beautiful girl from the other side of the protest lines, shows up at his school, and turns out to be funny, smart — and a Muslim refugee from Afghanistan. Suddenly, his parents’ politics seem much more complicated.

Mina has had a long and dangerous journey fleeing her besieged home in Afghanistan, and now faces a frigid reception at her new prep school, where she is on scholarship. As tensions rise, lines are drawn. Michael has to decide where he stands. Mina has to protect herself and her family. Both have to choose what they want their world to look like.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I have greatly enjoyed Abdel-Fattha’s other books (Where the Streets Had a Name, Ten Things I Hate About Me, and Does My Head Look Big in This?), but this one took me a while to get into. The characters felt much less dynamic than in her other books, which I think is what made me keep setting this book down. That said, I didn’t want to abandon it, given my history of enjoying her books, and I found the story to be told from a unique perspective.

 

Set in Australia (and originally published there), Afghan refugee Mina and her family move from their friendly, diverse neighborhood in Sydney after Mina receives a scholarship to attend the prestigious Victoria College. Michael, whose parents head Aussie Values, an Islamophobic, anti-refugee group, first spots Mina on the opposite side of a rally he attends. He’s surprised to see her soon after at his school. Though Mina’s grades rival (and exceed) those of her classmates, she feels otherwise out of place at her new school. She worries she’s just a diversity mascot. No longer in her culturally and ethnically diverse old neighborhood and old school, Mina now feels like “an ethnic supporting character.”

 

Michael and Mina have some uncomfortable interactions, but bond over similar taste in music and eventually get put together to work on a class project, where they begin to get to know each other on a deeper level. Michael, who has always rather mindlessly spouted his family’s politics, is forced to truly think for himself what his feelings are about immigrants and about Mina. While Mina is a rather static character, Michael shows a lot of growth over the course of the story. He learns what he thinks (instead of just parroting what his parents think) and how to start speaking up. He, and other characters, have to start to examine their privilege, opportunities, and what they take for granted. Though much of the story is rather didactic, Michael and Mina’s easy banter is clever and natural, giving much needed life to the story. Mina’s new friend, Paula, is another wonderful addition to the story and someone who helps give Mina more depth. Together, they hang out and do regular friend things, like bake, have movie marathons, and go see slam poetry. Mina and her family confront a lot of opposition, anger, and hatred in their new neighborhood (mostly thanks to Aussie Values supporters), but readers also see people standing up to that ignorance and hatred, with things feeling much more hopeful by the end of the book. Despite the slow start, I’m glad I stuck with this one. While at its heart this is an opposites attract story, the political issues make for a deep and compelling read. A good addition to all collections. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781338118667

Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.

Publication date: 05/09/2017

#SJYALit: Ten Young Adult Novels for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a guest post by Clara Kensie

sjyalitApril is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The statistics are horrifying, staggering, alarming, shameful: 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 will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center provides these statistics and more here.

 

Last week for Teen Librarian Toolbox, I wrote about rape culture, the ways we all contribute to it, and some steps we can take to identify and change those beliefs and behaviors. But as a reader and as an author, I also turn to books for education, comfort, and therapy.

 

Perhaps because sexual violence is so deeply embedded in our culture, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of books about the topic. For victims and survivors of sexual assault, reading about others’ ordeals will show them that they are not alone, that what happened was not their fault, and will encourage them to seek help. For friends and family of survivors, reading books about sexual assault will help them empathize and understand, and will show them the right and wrong ways to help. Through books, we can heal, support, protect, and prevent.

 

Below, I’m sharing with you ten YA novels about sexual assault, books I personally recommend because they resonated with me so deeply that I’ve thought about them every day since I read them. (Full disclosure: I am the author of Aftermath, a story inspired by true events from my childhood that I’ve thought about daily for over thirty years. You can read about the kidnapping that that inspired Aftermath on my blog.)

 

Alphabetically, by title:

aftermath coverAftermath by Clara Kensie

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.

Aftermath on Goodreads

 

 

exit-pursuedExit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

Veronica Mars meets William Shakespeare in E.K. Johnston’s latest brave and unforgettable heroine.

Hermione Winters is captain of her cheerleading team, and in tiny Palermo Heights, this doesn’t mean what you think it means. At PHHS, the cheerleaders don’t cheer for the sports teams; they are the sports team—the pride and joy of a tiny town. The team’s summer training camp is Hermione’s last and marks the beginning of the end of…she’s not sure what. She does know this season could make her a legend. But during a camp party, someone slips something in her drink. And it all goes black.

In every class, there’s a star cheerleader and a pariah pregnant girl. They’re never supposed to be the same person. Hermione struggles to regain the control she’s always had and faces a wrenching decision about how to move on. The assault wasn’t the beginning of Hermione Winter’s story and she’s not going to let it be the end. She won’t be anyone’s cautionary tale.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear on Goodreads

 

 

fakingnormalFaking Normal by Courtney Stevens

Alexi Littrell hasn’t told anyone what happened to her over the summer. Ashamed and embarrassed, she hides in her closet and compulsively scratches the back of her neck, trying to make the outside hurt more than the inside does.

When Bodee Lennox, the quiet and awkward boy next door, comes to live with the Littrells, Alexi discovers an unlikely friend in “the Kool-Aid Kid,” who has secrets of his own. As they lean on each other for support, Alexi gives him the strength to deal with his past, and Bodee helps her find the courage to finally face the truth.

Faking Normal on Goodreads

 

 

 

faultlineFault Line by C. Desir

Ben could date anyone he wants, but he only has eyes for the new girl — sarcastic free-spirit, Ani. Luckily for Ben, Ani wants him too. She’s everything Ben could ever imagine. Everything he could ever want.

But that all changes after the party. The one Ben misses. The one Ani goes to alone.

Now Ani isn’t the girl she used to be, and Ben can’t sort out the truth from the lies. What really happened, and who is to blame?

Ben wants to help her, but she refuses to be helped. The more she pushes Ben away, the more he wonders if there’s anything he can do to save the girl he loves.

Fault Line on Goodreads

 

 

living dead girlLiving Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott

Once upon a time, I was a little girl who disappeared.
Once upon a time, my name was not Alice.
Once upon a time, I didn’t know how lucky I was.

When Alice was ten, Ray took her away from her family, her friends — her life. She learned to give up all power, to endure all pain. She waited for the nightmare to be over.

Now Alice is fifteen and Ray still has her, but he speaks more and more of her death. He does not know it is what she longs for. She does not know he has something more terrifying than death in mind for her.

This is Alice’s story. It is one you have never heard, and one you will never, ever forget.

Living Dead Girl on Goodreads

 

 

scarsScars by Cheryl Rainfield

Kendra, fifteen, hasn’t felt safe since she began to recall devastating memories of childhood sexual abuse, especially because she still can’t remember the most important detail– her abuser’s identity. Frightened, Kendra believes someone is always watching and following her, leaving menacing messages only she understands. If she lets her guard down even for a minute, it could cost Kendra her life. To relieve the pressure, Kendra cuts; aside from her brilliantly expressive artwork, it’s her only way of coping. Since her own mother is too self-absorbed to hear her cries for help, Kendra finds support in others instead: from her therapist and her art teacher, from Sandy, the close family friend who encourages her artwork, and from Meghan, the classmate who’s becoming a friend and maybe more. But the truth about Kendra’s abuse is just waiting to explode, with startling unforeseen consequences. Scars is the unforgettable story of one girl’s frightening path to the truth.

Scars on Goodreads

 

 

someboysSome Boys by Patty Blount

Some boys go too far. Some boys will break your heart. But one boy can make you whole.
When Grace meets Ian she’s afraid. Afraid he’ll reject her like the rest of the school, like her own family. After she accuses the town golden boy of rape, everyone turns against Grace. They call her a slut and a liar. But…Ian doesn’t. He’s funny and kind with secrets of his own.
But how do you trust the best friend of the boy who raped you? How do you believe in love?
A gut-wrenching, powerful love story told from alternating points of view by the acclaimed author of Send.

Some Boys on Goodreads

 

 

speakSpeak by Laurie Halse Anderson:

“Speak up for yourself–we want to know what you have to say.” From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless, outcast, because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. As time passes, she becomes increasingly isolated and practically stops talking altogether. Only her art class offers any solace, and it is through her work on an art project that she is finally able to face what really happened at that terrible party: she was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her. Her healing process has just begun when she has another violent encounter with him. But this time Melinda fights back, refuses to be silent, and thereby achieves a measure of vindication. In Laurie Halse Anderson’s powerful novel, an utterly believable heroine with a bitterly ironic voice delivers a blow to the hypocritical world of high school. She speaks for many a disenfranchised teenager while demonstrating the importance of speaking up for oneself.

Speak was a 1999 National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature.

Speak on Goodreads

 

 

the way i usedThe Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith
In 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.

The Way I Used to Be on Goodreads

 

 

when jeffWhen Jeff Comes Home by Catherine Atkins

It’s been two years since Jeff Hart was kidnapped. Now, his abductor is releasing him to return home. When Jeff finds his family, he feels shell-shocked and unable to tell anyone what happened. He can’t believe any of his family or friends will understand what he has been through.

When Jeff Comes Home on Goodreads

 

 

 

 

There are hundreds more YA books about sexual violence, and I wish I could list them all here. If you were moved by a YA novel about sexual violence that’s not on this list, please tell us about it in the comments.

Please also visit Teen Librarian Toolbox’s Sexual Violence in Young Adult Literature project

 

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

 

National School Climate Survey results about LGBTQ students’ experiences in school

GLSEN-NSCS-2015-Cover_0GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, released its biennial National School Climate Survey, which documents the experiences of LGBTQ students from across the country, in mid December 2016. The good news is that things have improved slightly from their 2013 survey. The bad news is that it’s still really ugly out there.

174 page report (which is available as a PDF) looks at discrimination, harassment, assault, biased language, school resources and support, and more, and examines how these factors affect educational performance, safety, and mental health of LGBTQ teens. The report is filled with statistics, charts, and graphs that drive home the point that LGBTQ students face a lot of opposition at school and frequently don’t feel safe or supported.  Being knowledgeable of the potential struggles and understanding where they (and you!) can go to find useful resources (books, websites, helplines, etc) is a major step in the right direction. As GLSEN reports, “The survey has consistently indicated that specific school-based supports are related to a safer and more inclusive school climate, including: supportive educators, LGBT-inclusive curriculum, comprehensive anti-bullying policies, and supportive student clubs, such as Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs).” Also, “For the first time, GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey also includes insights on bisexual student experiences, school policies that specifically affect transgender students, and anti-bullying student education. The survey also asks students about discriminatory policies and practices around extracurricular activities and traditions like graduation, portraits, homecoming and prom.” (See here for the media release, where this quote came from, for more quick facts.) This report should be required reading for anyone who works with teenagers. 

The following data is taken from the survey results.

 

Findings of the 2015 National School Climate Survey include: 

GLSEN 1

Anti-LGBTQ Remarks at School

• Just over two-thirds of LGBTQ students heard the word “gay” used in a negative way often or frequently at school.

• More than half of LGBTQ students heard homophobic remarks such as “fag” or “dyke” often or frequently at school.

• Just under two-thirds of LGBTQ students heard negative remarks about gender expression often or frequently at school. Remarks about students not acting “masculine enough” were more common than remarks about students not acting “feminine enough.”

• Two-fifths of LGBTQ students heard negative remarks specifically about transgender people, like “tranny” or “he/she,” often or frequently.

• More than half of LGBTQ students heard homophobic remarks from school staff, and nearly two-thirds heard remarks from staff about students’ gender expression.

 

School Safety, Harassment, and Assault at School

• Close to 9 in 10 LGBTQ students were harassed at school.

• Sexual orientation and gender expression were the most common reasons LGBTQ students were harassed or assaulted at school.

• Nearly three quarters of students reported being verbally harassed at school because of their sexual orientation; more than half were verbally harassed because of their gender expression.

• Over a quarter of students reported being physically harassed at school because of their sexual orientation; 1 in 5 were physically harassed because of their gender expression.

• About 1 in 6 students reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year, primarily because of their sexual orientation, gender expression, or gender.

• Relational aggression, i.e. spreading rumors or deliberate exclusion, was reported by the vast majority of students.

• About half of students reported experiencing some form of electronic harassment (“cyberbullying”) in the past year.

• Over half of students were sexually harassed at school in past year.

 

The high incidence of harassment and assault is exacerbated by school staff who rarely, if ever, intervene on behalf of LGBT students.

The majority of LGBTQ students who were harassed or assaulted at school did not report these incidents to school staff.

• The most common reasons that LGBTQ students did not report incidents of victimization to school staff were doubts that effective intervention would occur, and fears that reporting would make the situation worse.

• Less than a third of LGBTQ who had reported incidents of victimization to school staff said that staff had effectively addressed the problem.

• When asked to describe how staff responded to reports of victimization, LGBTQ students most commonly said that staff did nothing or told the student to ignore it; 1 in 4 students were told to change their behavior (e.g., to not act “so gay” or dress in a certain way).

 

The report goes on to discuss: 

GLSEN 3

*absenteeism (“[A] lack of safety may lead to missing school, which can result in a student being pushed out of school by school disciplinary or criminal sanctions for truancy or dropping out of school as a result of poor academic achievement or disengaging with school due to the days missed.”)

*academic achievement (“We assessed the relationship between school safety and educational aspirations for students in our survey and found that LGBTQ students who reported higher levels of victimization based on their sexual orientation or gender expression were more likely than other students to report lower educational aspirations.”)

*psychological well-being (“Previous research has shown that being harassed or assaulted at school may have a negative impact on students’ mental health and self-esteem. Given that LGBTQ students face an increased likelihood for experiencing harassment and assault in school, it is especially important to examine how these experiences relate to their well-being.”)

 

Additionally, it looks at discriminatory policies, discriminatory discipline, restrictions, and prohibitions regarding public displays of affection, attending dances, forming a GSA, writing about LGBTQ topics, etc. It breaks the data down by race, ethnicity, school type, location, region, and more.

 

GLSEN offers many recommendations for turning these statistics around, such as giving students more access to LGBTQ-related information (literature, history, etc), forming GSA groups, providing professional development to increase the number of supportive teachers and staff, ensuring school policies are not discriminatory, having anti-bullying and harassment policies that make it clear that they provide safety for LGBTQ students, and teaching an inclusive curriculum.

 

LGBTQ students experienced a safer, more positive school environment when:

GLSEN 2

– Their school had a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) or similar student club

– They were taught positive representations of LGBT people, history, and events through their school curriculum

– They had supportive school staff who frequently intervened in biased remarks and effectively responded to reports of harassment and assault

– Their school had an anti-bullying/ harassment policy that specifically included protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

 

Previously at TLT:

Check out my previous post GLBTQ YA Resources for Building a Collection and Supporting Teens, which compiles articles and websites for great suggestions on books to add to your library collections and how to support GLBTQ youth. Another previous post here at TLT is Back to School: How to support and respect LGBTQIA+ students. More posts can be found by searching the tag LGBTQIA+ on the blog.

 

Also check out:

The Human Rights Campaign’s Welcoming Schools Project, which “is one of the few LGBT and gender-inclusive programs in the country that has a K-5 focus with resources to help elementary schools and educators address bias-based bullying—including anti-LGBT slurs and gender put-downs.”

 

Unfamiliar with GLSEN?

From their site: GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, is the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe and affirming schools for all students. Established in 1990, GLSEN envisions a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. GLSEN seeks to develop school climates where difference is valued for the positive contribution it makes to creating a more vibrant and diverse community. For information on GLSEN’s research, educational resources, public policy advocacy, student organizing programs and educator training initiatives, visit www.glsen.org.

@GLSEN on Twitter

#SJYALit: Breaking Taboos, Telling Secrets, a conversation between Isabel Quintero and Elana K. Arnold

Introduction

sjyalitIn the introduction to Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World, Kelly Jensen writes, “What unites feminists is the belief that every person–regardless of gender, class, education, race, sexuality, or ability–deserves equality.” This intersection between multiple social justice movements characterizes what we call Third Wave feminism, a term coined in the 1990s, and it seems to be a unifying force right now in the resistance movement spreading across the US in response to the 2016 presidential election.

 

But what does that have to do with books?

What makes a novel feminist?

In a series of conversations, four young adult authors–Amber J. Keyser, Elana K. Arnold, Mindy McGinnis, and Isabel Quintero–discuss what makes their recent books feminist and why they feel it’s important to give teen readers unvarnished reality in their fiction.

 

April 4th — Amber J. Keyser and Elana K. Arnold take on “unlikeable characters” and the evolution from aberrant girl to nasty woman.

 

April 11th — Mindy McGinnis and Amber J. Keyser talk about barriers. What happens when a girl smashes up against society’s expectations for what a girl should be?

 

Today, April 20th — Elana K. Arnold and Isabel Quintero address reproductive rights and the power of depicting sex and abortion in fiction.

 

BREAKING TABOOS, TELLING SECRETS

A conversation between Isabel Quintero, author of GABI: A GIRL IN PIECES, and Elana K. Arnold, author of WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE OF.

 

gabi a girlElana: Isabel, I think it’s interesting that both of our titles–GABI: A GIRL IN PIECES, and WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE OF–hone in on how girls are dissected by themselves, by their families, by their friends and their boyfriends, by society. Why is it, do you think, that girls are such consumable products?

 

Isabel: Well, I think it has to do with the fact that we live in a capitalist patriarchy where we are taught that everything is consumable. Women are often not seen as autonomous, young women especially and girls less so. We are always thought of in relation to someone else, defined by what our purpose is in that relationship–daughter, sister, mother, girlfriend, mistress, wife, and so on. Those roles are seen as both consumable and disposable. And because we are often not seen as autonomous, as having our own worth, that seems to translate into our voices, our bodies, our time, being assumed to be in the service of others–for pleasure, reassurance, guidance, emotional support, nurturing, etc–and for their consumption.

 

Nina is girlfriend until Seth decides she is not, and doesn’t even tell her. Nina’s dad had one wife and disposed of her and then took on Nina’s mom. And in my book, Gabi’s mom feels Gabi should look a certain way because she needs to fill the role of desirable young woman to eventually become wife. Is she concerned that Gabi should go to college? Yes, but being desirable seems to take precedence sometimes.

 

Some of it may be rooted in fear. I know that one of my mom’s biggest fears is that I end up alone. And it has been this way since I was a teenager–being married was a top priority. Now that I am no longer with husband, I find that she still worries about that. But this goes back to having worth attached to how much we are worth to others–or, in other words, how much they can take.

 

I think this also speaks to the images of the different saints in your book. Those women were consumed and continue to be consumed by people as signs of true faith. Or am I wrong? Can you speak a little to how the saints are or are not being consumed? Why did you decide to include them?

 

what-girls-are-madeElana: Something that fascinates me about virgin martyr saints is the same as something that fascinates me about modern teenage girls: the ways they are consumed. The saints are first consumed by those who killed and dismembered them; then they are consumed again by the religion that says that their suffering marks them as holy; then they are consumed again and again each time their story of suffering, dismemberment, and death is told. As a writer, I am consuming them, as well, using their pain for my own artistic purposes. The little rhyme from childhood–Sugar and spice and everything nice, that’s what girls are made of–tells us straight up that girls are for eating. One of the reasons I love your Gabi is that she turns this paradigm upside down, eating rather than being eaten, consuming almost as an act of rebellion, getting bigger as a defense mechanism against being consumed.

 

Isabel: Interesting take on Gabi. I didn’t so much have her be a fat girl as a defense mechanism as much as just who she was–she likes to eat. Some of Gabi is based on me, and her being a fat girl is one thing. The thing about being fat is that it seems like an act of rebellion and it isn’t–the act of rebellion is loving your body and realizing that you have ownership of it. That no one else should have the right to shame you into self-hate.  

 

Elana: I regret that I phrased this in this way–I know that Gabi isn’t fat as a defense mechanism. I do think that her eating and taking such pleasure in eating is a radical act, and something we rarely see in fiction–more often, the things we see girls consume are sex, alcohol, fashion. I totally agree with what you say about rebelling being the act of loving your body and realizing that you have ownership of it. The way Gabi consumes food does seem like an act of rebellion to me–it goes against expectations that she can enjoy food so much, or maybe that she’s so willing to tell us about the pleasure she gets from eating. Maybe this is because after eating comes digesting, and after digesting comes defecating, and we as a culture really don’t like to imagine our characters–female, particularly–as functioning bodies.

 

Another sometimes-function of the female body is pregnancy, and both your GABI: A GIRL IN PIECES and my WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE OF deal with the reasons around and the methods by which a girl might choose an abortion. When you began working on GABI: A GIRL IN PIECES, did you know that abortion would be part of the story you were telling, and what brought you to depict it in the particular ways you did?

 

Isabel: I actually always did know that abortion would be part of the book. Abortion is real. I say this because so many people seem to think that abortion is a new concept, that it is only a choice that women make in desperate times, and a choice that young women, teenage girls, cannot make. I think that women have always tried to find a way of not being pregnant because motherhood is not for everyone. I’ll say it again–motherhood is not for everyone. And women should have a say whether they are pregnant or not. When I was teen I knew girls who had abortions, in high school and at the university. For some young women it was tough because they felt they had no choice and were ashamed. For others they were so sure that they didn’t want a child but didn’t realize abortion was a real option and had tried other methods first, which is really dangerous and doesn’t guarantee success.

 

In GABI the abortion comes from a place of survival–if Georgina doesn’t have an abortion her father would surely beat her, thus her safety is in jeopardy. I wrote it in this way because it is a reality. Abortion and sex are not bad girl/good girl issues, they are simply realities of life. But I think this dichotomy harkens back to the notion of women as consumable–in which way do you want to be consumed? And also, asks men, (because this dichotomy only allows for heteronormative practices) what kind of woman would you like to consume? And that answer for some is the problem because it doesn’t allow women to avoid the male gaze at all.

 

What I appreciated about WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE OF was the fact that there is no moment of doubt for Nina. She is sure of her choice and what it means for her future. I really like that you gave her agency. That there was no one but herself who she had to answer to. But really what I liked is that you made her so real and flawed. This may be a strange question but do you think that there is difference between when straight cis-men write flawed female characters than when women do it? I think about this because my friend, author Erika Wurth, author of Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend, pointed out how women have had to learn to live in a man’s world, to see the world as men do, but the opposite is not true. I think it’s a very interesting idea and an important way of understanding how women are portrayed in literature.

 

Elana: I think that’s a really interesting question. I am a product of a late-nineties creative writing graduate school program and a high school education that told me that the reason the canon had so few women in it was because they just hadn’t produced work worthy of inclusion. I spent a lot of time trying to write like a man, and this applied most of all to the way I wrote about women and girls; I had so internalized the male gaze, both in my writing and in my life, that everything went through this filter. The work I have been doing in fiction and in life for the past ten years–especially the past five–has been focused on recentering girls and women: their experiences, their bodies, their emotions. WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE OF is peopled almost entirely with women, and it’s a story about female bodies, female shame, female desire, and female agency.

 

I think books like GABI: GIRL IN PIECES and WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE OF are incredibly important, especially in today’s political atmosphere, with women’s rights and female bodies being policed in so many truly frightening ways. I feel like we are watching the pendulum swing in the wrong direction–a regressive direction–and books like ours, and conversations like these, can be of service to young women. I’m grateful to you, Amber, and Mindy for our discussions, and to Teen Librarian Toolbox for the platform.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

ElanaElana K. Arnold (WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE OF) writes for and about children and teens. Some of her books have been included on the LA Public Library’s Best Books of the Year list, the Bank Street Best Book list, the YALSA “Best Fiction for Young Adults” list, have been ALAN picks, and have been selected for inclusion in the Amelia Bloomer Project (feminist books for young readers). Her last YA novel, INFANDOUS, won the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award and the Westchester Fiction Prize. She holds a master’s degree in Creative Writing/Fiction from the University of California, Davis, where she has taught Creative Writing and Adolescent Literature.

 

 

quintero (1)Isabel Quintero (GABI, A GIRL IN PIECES) is the daughter of Mexican immigrants. She was born, raised, and resides in the Inland Empire of Southern California. Gabi, A Girl in Pieces from Cinco Puntos Press, her first novel, is the recipient of the 2015 William C. Morris Award for Debut YA Novel, the 2015 Tomas Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award, the California Book Award Gold Medal for Young Adults, among others. Gabi has also been on several best of and recommendation lists, among them the Amelia Bloomer Project, Booklist, and School Library Journal.  In addition to writing fiction, she also writes poetry and her work can be found in The James Franco Review, Huizache, The Great American Lit Mag, As/Us Journal, The Acentos Review, The Pacific Review, and others.

 

Further reading

Amanda’s review of Gabi, A Girl in Pieces

Amanda’s review of What Girls Are Made Of