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#SJYALit: Good Girls Don’t Wear That! a guest post by Kim Baccellia

sjyalitAs a child I remember my church leaders sharing stories of how girls had a responsibility to dress and act appropriately or else they’d cause boys to have indecent thoughts. This is true in some fundamental conservative groups. If those boys acted on these impulses, the blame was placed on the girl. Not the boy. Not much was mentioned on the consequences of what a boy wore but rather what he thought or felt on how a girl dressed.

 

We were conditioned to think as women that we were the ones to blame for the bad behavior of males. If we didn’t wear that short skirt, tank top, short shorts, halter shirt, high cut skirt, then that boy wouldn’t have assaulted us or worse.

Sunday school teachers used many metaphors to get their point across. One referred on how not being dressed modestly is like rolling in manure. Yes, you get attention but mostly from pigs.

Or another friend shared how she was told to put a t-shirt over her ‘revealing’ one-piece bathing suit while at a youth pool party. The leaders didn’t want her to tempt the boys. Her suit had bows on the sides that revealed a little ‘skin’. Heaven forbid if a boy got the wrong idea.

The big thing I got out of these messages was I was to blame for any ‘bad’ thoughts a boy might have due to what I might be wearing.

What’s sadder is I really believed I was to blame for the actions of boys or men that tried to sexually harass me.

One day this all came back to haunt me. My mother had called the high school and told them to release me for the day. We didn’t have a phone as Dad didn’t believe in them. Also they expected me to walk the three miles home. It was around 11ish when I was approached by a man who threatened me at gun point to get into his car or else. I freaked and somehow got away.

I was shaken but the real horror didn’t come until I had to testify against him at trial.

While on the stand, I was forced to relive the nightmare but one thing stuck in my head. His attorney said, “My client had entertained dark thoughts when he saw you in your tight jeans. He wouldn’t have thought them otherwise.”

So right there in the court house, a lawyer only reaffirmed what I’d been told as a child and as a teen:

You’re to blame for any violation if you happen to wear something revealing.

I didn’t think otherwise as I was taught throughout my life that I was to blame for the bad behavior of boys and men by the clothing I wore.

Later, I went home and burned those jeans.

 

I was horrified. I felt I’d been violated all over again. I know this is one huge reason why I didn’t date until college. I didn’t want to encourage any unwanted behavior and it felt safer to stay by myself.

But this didn’t stop the harassment from other men. The catcalls, men thinking they had the right to grab my breasts or butt, the disgusting whispers in passing, and other things continued. Once I even had a guy try to pull me out of my car while at a stop light. He yelled disgusting things he’d do to me and got angry when I didn’t respond.

Unfortunately society still judges people on how they look, act, or what they wear. We see this on TV, social media, and in the schools. The way a person dresses can have a big impact on how others can treat them. Right or wrong. We need to be aware of our surroundings and be prudent.

Saying that, it still doesn’t excuse the behavior of others. No one chooses to put dark thoughts in your head. No one acts on impulses to rape or sexually harass a girl or woman just because of what they wear.

No matter what anyone says, no one can put thoughts in someone else’s mind.  They CHOOSE how they act.

Thank goodness there are YA books out there that address this topic. How I wish they’d been there when I was seventeen years old and in that court room.

 

13 reasonsTHIRTEEN REASONS WHY by Jay Asher:

Hannah mentions on the tapes how she was no longer seen as a person but an object after a so-called friend put her on a ‘list’ for having the best ‘ass’. Girls going through this can see what Hannah did and realize they have other options. Warning though, this book does deal with suicide which might be a trigger for some.

 

 

thewwayiusedtobeTHE WAY I USED TO BE by Amber Smith

Very painful and haunting account of a freshman girl is raped by her brother’s best friend. This novel follows Eden throughout high school. Mostly it’s a story of strength and courage.

 

 

 

exit-pursuedEXIT, PURSUED BY A BEAR by E.K. Johnston

Story of a cheerleader who is raped at cheer camp and the rumors that follow her after the act.

 

 

 

 

story of a girlSTORY OF A GIRL by Sara Zarr

After Deanna is caught in the back car with an older guy, she’s labeled a ‘slut’ and has to deal with what happens next. Zarr does a great job showing realistic characters that are multi-layered.

 

 

 

 

Meet Kim Baccellia

Me2I’m a YA author and Staff reviewer for YA Books Central.  I’ve been a part of the Cybils-Children’s and Young Adult Blogger’s Literary Awards and I’m very passionate about diversity in YA/children literature.  I graduated from BYU with a degree in elementary education and also attended CSU Fullerton grad program in bilingual/bicultural education. I’m a former bilingual teacher.  I love parrots, yoga, poetry, Jaime from the Outlander series, and anything Parisian.  I’m a total bookaholic. A good place to find me is either at the local Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf with a nommy iced tea latte or a Barnes & Noble where I’ll be perusing the YA section.

#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

#SVYALit Book Review: Wrecked by Maria Padian

Publisher’s description

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

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

 

Amanda’s thoughts

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781616206246

Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers

Publication date: 10/04/2016

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

Publisher’s description

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

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

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

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

 

Amanda’s thoughts

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

 

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

 

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

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481449359

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books

Publication date: 03/22/2016

Book Review: The Word for Yes by Claire Needell

words for yesPublisher’s description

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

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

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

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

 

Amanda’s thoughts

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062360496

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 02/16/2016

Book Review: Consent by Nancy Ohlin

consentPublisher’s description:

In this sexy and intriguing novel, an intense—and passionate—bond between a high school senior and her music teacher becomes a public scandal that threatens the reputation of both.

Bea has a secret.

Actually, she has more than one. There’s her dream for the future that she can’t tell anyone—not her father and not even her best friend, Plum.

And now there’s Dane Rossi. Dane is hot, he shares Bea’s love of piano, and he believes in her.

He’s also Bea’s teacher.

When their passion for music crosses into passion for each other, Bea finds herself falling completely for Dane. She’s never felt so wanted, so understood, so known to her core. But the risk of discovery carries unexpected surprises that could shake Bea entirely. Bea must piece together what is and isn’t true about Dane, herself, and the most intense relationship she’s ever experienced in this absorbing novel from Nancy Ohlin, the author of Beauty.

 

Amanda’s thoughts:

Oh, boy. I will be so curious to hear feedback from actual teens on this title. As an adult reading this, I was scowling the whole time. I don’t like the word “sexy” up in that description, nor do I like the words “romance,” which I’ve seen in a few other reviews. Usually I don’t look at reviews on a book until after I’ve written mine, but I poked around a little this time and my scowling continued. You wanted their relationship to work out? You’re saying, wait, wait, it’s not that creepy–she’s nearly 18 and he’s only ten years older? AND HER TEACHER. And underage. And he’s TEN YEARS OLDER.

 

That said, Ohlin certainly doesn’t present this as really romantic or even okay. She also doesn’t paint anyone as clearly the villain. Both Bea and Mr. Rossi have justified their relationship, and the thoughts they have about it are complicated. But there wasn’t one second while reading this that I wasn’t thinking, this is statutory rape. She is underage. He’s much older. He’s her teacher. I wanted to yell at her. And at him. And at the friends that Bea eventually convinces to help lie for her and cover for them. And at Bea’s oblivious and undeveloped dad. And her loser brother, for that matter. That’s a lot of yelling, I know.

 

When the book opens, Bea is being interviewed by the police. Other bits of the interview are interspersed in the narrative. We see that she’s lying to the police about what actually happened. Bea is at the top of her class, despite not seeming to have any real drive or ambition, or even putting in much work. She’s looking at applying to Harvard, but really only because her best friend, Plum, wants her to apply there with her. She’s never had piano lessons but is a prodigy, playing in secret at home when her dad isn’t around, worried it will trigger him because her piano prodigy mother died while giving birth to Bea. Bea says she’s not a slacker and is not depressed, but has little motivation for anything and carries a heavy weight of guilt over her mother’s death and what happened to their family after.

 

When Mr. Rossi shows up to substitute for the music teacher on leave, Bea pretty much has insta-feelings for him. He’s young(ish), British, attractive, and a skilled piano player. Instantly, Plum is asking if Bea has a crush on him. Bea has sudden and incessant thoughts about Mr. Rossi, after only seeing him one day. He takes an interest in her after he hears her play piano and mentors her, aghast that she isn’t applying to any conservatories and shocked that she’s never had a lesson. They meet up outside of school, first at a cafe and then eventually at his house. He wants her to play for his professor friend at Juilliard and takes her to NYC for the weekend. Yes, they go on a trip together. Yes, things happen on that trip. Yes, I yelled at Bea. The whole time all of this is happening, Bea and Plum talk about him as though he’s a boy their age, as though this is fine. They of course mention the risk and everything, but mostly think it’s okay because Bea’s nearly 18, he’s only a sub, and they’re obviously in love. This is special. It’s not creepy. It’s not predatory. It’s not statutory rape. She’s consenting. Isn’t she? 

 

Mixed into the story are references to Nabokov’s Lolita; composer Robert Schumann and his relationship with this piano teacher’s daughter, Clara; the forbidden love in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera;  and other stories of age difference, like both Plum and Bea’s parents, giving readers more to think about regarding age differences and consent.

 

When things fall apart, as we know they will have to, and their relationship gets discovered, things go from bad to worse. People get pulled in to lie for them. Bea and Mr. Rossi make a REALLY BAD choice at school. Bea’s dad, a lawyer, is concerned and gets involved, but it’s debatable if he really understands what’s been going on as Bea continues to lie to him. Even when Bea has her eyes open to the potential pattern going on with Mr. Rossi, she still thinks they will end up together, still continues to lie to authorities to protect him. The ending was rather abrupt. I was reading this on a tablet and assumed I still had quite a bit to go. I wanted to see more of Bea dealing with the aftermath of their relationship being exposed and the fallout. An epilogue shows us how she’s moved on, but I wanted to see her get there.

 

This is a book that will make you uncomfortable. It might make you furious. It will definitely make you sad. When we talk about consent, as we so often have in our Sexual Violence in Young Adult Lit project, it’s important that that conversation includes the legalities of age of consent and examines what statutory rape looks like. Some readers may read this story as a doomed affair. They might indeed find it “sexy” or “romantic.” But others, especially adults, will see a vulnerable and naive girl being preyed upon by a man far older than she is–a teacher–and deluding herself into thinking there is anything okay about what’s going on. A powerful, complicated look at consent that offers plenty of fodder for great discussions. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781442464902

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Publication date: 11/10/2015

Book Review: What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

what we sawPublisher’s description:

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

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

 

Amanda’s thoughts:

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

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

Gonna rape her good for SURE now.

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

What u get for inviting a TRAMP to the party.

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

How to Teach Consent to Kids in Five Simple Steps

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

How Parents Talk to Children About Consent

How to Have the Consent Talk with Your Kids

Off to College is Too Late for the Consent Talk

Check in First: How to Talk About Sexual Consent

Planned Parenthood’s Consent and Rape section

 

For further reading also see:

The Steubenville High School Rape Case

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

Buzzfeed: What Is Rape Culture?

#NoMoreShittySons, a Storify by Carrie Mesrobian

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062338747

Publisher: HarperCollins

Publication date: 09/22/2015

The Sexual Violence in LGBTQIA+ YA Literature Project Index

SUPERNEWEST PURPLE

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

“Our kisses were seismic”: Positive sexual experiences in LGBTQIA+ YA books

Part of the Sexual Violence in Young Adult Literature Project has included posts looking at enthusiastic consent, positive and healthy sexual experiences, and on-the-page consensual sex scenes (check out those posts here by Karen Jensen, Christa Desir, and Carrie Mesrobian). While it’s important to look at and discuss rape, consent, abuse, and violence, it’s equally as important to present plenty of healthy, positive, and enjoyable experiences for teen readers to show them what desire looks like and how it can play out. The field of books about LGBTQIA+ teens is growing in leaps and bounds. We are lucky that we can hand so many books to teenagers where the characters have happy and fulfilling relationships, where things are not all doom and gloom, and where sexual behaviors actually take place on the page, rather than some fade to black scenes. There is power in representation, in being seen, in seeing hope and happiness.

 

two boysOne of my favorite books that falls into this category is David Levithan’s Two Boys Kissing. In it, Craig and Harry, former boyfriends and now best friends, set out to break the world record for the longest kiss (32 hours, 12 minutes, and 10 seconds). Their kiss is recorded and streamed live to a worldwide audience. Levithan writes, “They are kissing to show the world that it’s okay for two boys to kiss.” And kiss they do.

 

Here are two of my favorite parts:

“Harry has kissed Craig so many times, but this is different from all of the kisses that have come before. At first there were the excited dating kisses, the kisses used to punctuate their liking of each other, the kisses that were both proof and engine of their desire. Then the more serious kisses, the its-getting-serious kisses, followed by the relationship kisses—that variety pack, sometimes intense, sometimes resigned, sometimes playful, sometimes confused. Kisses that led to making out and kisses that led to saying goodbye. Kisses to mark territory, kisses meant only for private, kisses that lasted hours and kisses that were gone before they arrived.”

 

“Two boys kissing. You know what this means … When we kissed, we knew how powerful it was. Our kisses were seismic. When seen by the wrong person, they could destroy us. When shared with the right person, they had the power of confirmation, the force of destiny … And even as it becomes commonplaces, the power is still there. Every time two boys kiss, it opens up the world a little bit more. Your world. The world we left. The world we left you. This is the power of a kiss: It does not have the power to kill you. But it has the power to bring you to life.”

 

gone gone goneHow about a bit from Craig and Lio in Hannah Moskotwitz’s Gone, Gone, Gone:

“He pushes me up against the counter. I’m cold everywhere he touches me, except my mouth, my mouth is burning against his mouth. I’m all wet. I’m melting.”

 

“…I kiss him in my kitchen like I’ve never kissed anyone in my life. It feels a little hilarious, like I’m trying to sweep his whole body into mine. Starting with hands, then arms, then lips.”

 

“We are in the bed, squeaking on the mattress. We are all arms and legs and mouths. I’ve never kissed like this before. I feel like I’m falling into him.

‘I like your hair,’ he says.

‘Mmm.’

His hand underneath my t-shirt. I shiver. ‘However far you want to go, Craig.’

‘Yeah?’

‘It’s fine with me. I’m ready.’

He kisses me hard, for a long time teeth are against my lips.

He whispers, ‘Li? Can we just sleep tonight?’

I can’t say I’m not a little disappointed. But it’s all right. There will be other nights. There will be. And again and again and again.”

 

about a girlSarah McCarry’s About A Girl has some great scenes too:

“… But the unmapped landscape I had cross with him that night in his room compared not at all to the country in which I now found myself, to this girl who moved beneath me and above me like a serpent, lithe and strong, her muscles like cables snapping beneath her skin, the exquisite softness of her mouth a sweet counterpoint to the hard plans of her body …. I looked deep into the bright honey of her eyes and found that I had lost myself altogether, that had she not whispered my name over and over as she kissed me … I should have forgotten it altogether, and it was only the sound of my own name in her mouth, her tongue shaping it as she shaped me, that brought me back to myself, and not long after that there was nothing left for her to say at all, and I was nothing more than a body singing, a body reborn and born again, utterly hers in the dark.”

 

 

I asked on Twitter for people to share with me their favorite YA relationships/scenes/books featuring enthusiastic consent and healthy, positive relationships. Thanks for all of the wonderful input! Let us know in the comments or on Twitter your favorite books, relationships, and scenes! 

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