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

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

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

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

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

An Educators Guide to Building Resilience Through YA Literature

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

A Reflection on Teaching Speak in the Classroom

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

Laurie Halse Anderson Recommends Five Books to Talk About Rape Culture

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

School Library Journal: After #MeToo

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

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

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

Publisher’s Book Description

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

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

This book will be published on March 12, 2019

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

YA A to Z: Being Heard – Anne Frank, Diaries and Teens, a discussion of Anne Frank with Author Mary Amato

Today as a part of our ongoing A to Z look at teen issues, teen fiction and more, author Mary Amato is discussing Anne Frank and diaries with us.

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On March 28, 1944 a radio address changed Anne Frank’s relationship to her diary. Gerrit Bolkestein, the Dutch Minster for Education, Art, and Science gave the address from London, where the Dutch government was in exile. In it, he asked for the Dutch people to save written evidence of the persecution and oppression that they had endured or were enduring under the German occupation. Diaries would be particularly useful.

When Anne heard about Bolkestein’s interest in collecting personal records, she turned to her own diary with a new passion and began seriously revising. The prospect of sharing her words with a larger audience must have given Anne a sense of purpose and power, a feeling that her experience and her expression of that experience was valid and valuable.

The fact that Anne was intentionally revising her diary for possible publication is a remarkable detail about the Frank story that many readers don’t know—one that I didn’t know until a recent visit to the Anne Frank House.

The gift of a diary to a child or teen is an old-fashioned tradition, a sweet gesture that typically comes with the modest hope that the child will enjoy writing down his or her thoughts. Who knows, the child or teen might even enjoy sharing the entries with his or her own children in the years to come.

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In June of 1942, when Anne received the cute red-and-white checked diary for her 13th birthday, she began writing in it with the typical mix of reluctance and desire. Most kids want to write, but don’t know what to write about. In her diary, she noted that writing might be a substitute for something she wanted but didn’t have at that moment: a close friend. Anne named her diary Kitty, after a character in one of her favorite books, and began to write as if writing to a friend. Ordinary stuff.

In July, life for the Frank family changed radically. Anne’s older sister Margot received a call-up notice from the Nazis to return to Germany and work in a labor camp. Otto Frank knew what this meant, and he had a plan. The family went into hiding in a series of walled-off rooms in the rear of the building of the spice-distribution company where he worked. When the Franks took that desperate act, Anne took her diary with her.

“The nicest part is being able to write down all my thoughts and feelings, otherwise I’d absolutely suffocate.” –March 16, 1944.

Most of the readers of Anne’s diary know this much of Anne’s story, and many assume that the published edition (known most commonly in English as The Diary of a Young Girl) was Anne’s one and only diary. The red-and-white checked book was Anne’s first diary. After it was full, Anne wrote in several additional notebooks, and—a heartbreaking thought—we don’t have them all. According to the Anne Frank House, nearly all of 1943 is missing. The Diary of a Young Girl is a compilation of her original diary, three notebooks, and the revision on loose sheets of paper that she began after hearing the radio address and that she was working on up until the time of her arrest and deportation to Bergen Belsen in 1944, where she died in March of 1945, just a month before the death camp was liberated by British troops.

When I was first read Anne Frank’s diary, I couldn’t imagine or understand anything as horrific as the holocaust. I wasn’t Jewish and knew only the basics about World War II. I connected with Anne because I was the same age and, by that time, also a serious diarist.

It was my mother who gave me my first diary. Although she had cancer at the time, I’m certain that she thought she would beat her disease, that she had no inkling that she was giving me the tool that would help me most to cope with her death. Because the culture in which I grew up was all about silent stoicism and the suppression of emotions, my diary became the only place to voice the truth of what I was experiencing, the only place for me to cry, to scream, and to ask questions.

At the time, even though most of what I wrote was for myself, I also wrote some things with the goal of sharing my experience. The biggest platform I could hope for was a mimeographed and stapled literary journal that my English teacher, Mr. McCauley, organized. The emotion I remember feeling when I first saw my words in print was a sense of relief. Seeing my words in print made me feel real and valued. Publication was the permanent proof of not only my existence, but also the worth of my existence.

I think about that and then I think about Anne and how powerless she was and how the thought that her diary might be published must have energized her in the darkest time.

And now I’m also thinking about the Parkland, Florida, students, the survivors of that school shooting, and what happened when they began speaking the truth of their experience. What has struck me is how radically some things have changed. Social media and the internet has enabled the voices of children and teens to be received and delivered at a dizzying speed. A speech written by a teen and given at a small-town meeting can be recorded and uploaded onto YouTube one day; and, within 24 hours, that student can be on CNN.

Unfortunately, what hasn’t changed is that there are still people out there who believe that young people should not be taken seriously, that young voices aren’t worthy of time or respect, that young voices shouldn’t be trusted or even actively silenced. How heartbreaking it was to see and hear the ridiculing of the Parkland students by some adults and the accusations by others that the students must be paid actors or shills for liberal adults in power.

From the time Anne’s diary was published until his death, Anne’s father Otto Frank—the only member of the immediate family that survived the death camps— had to deal with numerous people who claimed that the diary was a forgery, a ploy for sympathy, a propaganda tool. Today the Anne Frank House has to continue in the fight and has taken successful legal action against deniers.

What hasn’t changed is that teens need and want to be heard. Perhaps more than ever, the diary is a tool that can help.

On a personal note, I have to say that when I finally made my pilgrimage to the Anne Frank House, I was worried that the place would have the emotionally-flat atmosphere that some museums can have. And during the initial part of the visit, my fears were confirmed. The building itself is drab and unremarkable looking. Snaking my way through the first few rooms along with so many tourists, holding the audio wand to my ear, and straining to peek at the various photographic and textual displays, I felt nothing. But the second half of the tour is different. When you pass by the specially-constructed false bookshelf and duck through the portal to the secret annex of the building, the rooms where Anne, her family, and four other Jews lived in hiding for two years, the audio portion suspends, and you are forced—wisely—to experience the heart of the museum silently. You walk through the small rooms and see where Anne slept and wrote. You listen to the sound of your footsteps, the creaking of the floorboards, the hushed whispers of the visitors in the next room, and it hits you as it has never hit you before. To be any age and have to be quiet, contained, restrained minute after minute, day after day, month after month within these dark walls would be a nightmare. But to be fourteen?

I have a deeper understanding now, how, at a time when a young girl’s voice was quite literally suppressed, her diary gave her both a place to speak and the hope of being heard.

If you work with teens and haven’t encouraged diary writing, please consider trying a station with supplies in the library.  No need for expensive blank books—pretty or thick books can be intimidating. Some businesses will donate small notebooks and pens, or small, thin diaries can be made on the spot by folding and stapling standard copier paper. I have a pdf of tips for download and display.

Encourage Diary Writing Display

And if you have a teen in your personal life, consider giving a diary as a gift. I recommend something plain and small with a gentle reminder that writing can be a powerful friend.

Meet Mary Amato

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Mary Amato is an award-winning children’s and YA book author, poet, playwright, and songwriter. Her books have been translated into foreign languages, optioned for television, produced onstage, and have won the children’s choice awards in Ohio, Minnesota, Utah, and Arizona. She teaches popular workshops on writing and the creative process around the country.

YA A to Z: Adoption Books – Being Discussed, Being Seen, a guest post by Eric Smith

It’s the second week of January, which means we’re discussing the Letter A in YA A to Z. Today we are talking about adoption with the amazing literary agent and writer Eric Smith.

You can find out more about YA A to Z here.

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There’s this look.

It’s hard to explain. I’ve never seen myself do it. Sometimes I feel it though. The way my brow furrows, my mouth tightens. I imagine my lips look like they are forming a straight line, like an emoji. It’ll happen, and my wife or my friends who are nearby will sharing a knowing smile.

Someone got adoption wrong again, and everyone is looking at me to see how I’ll react.

I see it all the time. Sometimes its in a book, or something on television, or in one of the many, many Lifetime movies I watch with my wife. You can tell, in that moment, when the writers have no idea what it feels like. What the real questions are. What the real struggle is.

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But there’s this other look. It’s an expression I keep inside. One that hits me and leaves me quiet and awestruck. My heart swells and I feel that warmth in my chest, as my eyes tear up.

When someone gets it so right.

When they see me.

Six Common Issues Faced by Adopted Adolescents – Adoptive Families

There’s a difference, you know. Between being used as a plot device, and having someone understand your story. Between being discussed and being seen.

Last year, for me, was a year of feeling seen.

Adoption – KidsHealth

I was lucky enough to publish Welcome Home, a Young Adult anthology full of adoption-themed stories from a wide array of contributors, with Flux. When my amazing agent was pitching the project around, a lot of the feedback we got from editors was along the lines of it being “too niche” or “a narrow hook.”

When over a hundred thousand kids are adopted each year in the United States alone, and four times that in the foster care system… that’s a pretty devastating piece of feedback to hear. Because the feedback suddenly isn’t about the book anymore. It’s about you.

You’re being discussed. You’re not being seen.

Adoption in YA Lit – The Hub – American Library Association

Every agent and editor and person in the publishing world will tell you not to take things personally like that, as a writer. It’s all subjective. This didn’t feel that way.

But, the book was picked up. And my goodness, am I endlessly thankful. Last year brought with it many of those quiet moments of awe. Of being seen. Not just because of my little book, but because of what I kept seeing in the world of books and art.

3 On A YA Theme: Adoption – Book Riot

My wife and I started watching This Is Us, a television series that prominently features a trans-racial adoptee who wrestles with his identity and his past. Someone like me. Novels like You Don’t Know Me But I Know You by Rebecca Barrow and The Leavers by Lisa Ko were published, stunning stories of adoption in the world of YA and adult literary fiction. I re-read Autofocus by Lauren Gibaldi and the powerful See No Color by Shannon Gibney.

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And my goodness, Far from the Tree by Robin Benway won the National Book Award. A YA novel about adoption won the National Book Award. I felt my heart wrench in my chest when I saw the celebrations on social media for that beautiful book. A novel that made me feel seen.

A book I wish I had as a teenager growing up.

All this art, all these words and images and stories… they all came at a time when my wife and I were getting ready, as best we could, for the birth of our first child. It’s an odd thing, promoting your book about adoption, with a number of people touched by adoption, right after your first blood relative in welcomed into the world.

10 Things Adoptees Want You to Know | HuffPost

This summer, my first in-print YA novel will be out in the world. The Girl and the Grove. It’s the story of an adopted teenager who finds her biological mother in a hidden patch of woods in Philadelphia’s largest city park… only to discover she might be a magical creature of myth. It’s a story about those “what ifs” that adopted kids think about it, and hold secret in their hearts. It took years to write.

I hope it can live up to some of the great adoption stories that have been coming out, and the ones we’re going to see this year. Like Nicole Chung’s All You Can Ever Know, a memoir I am thirsting for, by one of my favorite essayists writing today.

I hope the story resonates with you, the way the short stories in Welcome Home hit me. How last year’s stories by Rebecca Darrow and Robin Benway broke my heart and gave me hope. I want those novels that came out last year, those books that won awards, to leave you feeling like a main character in your life story, and not just a device. Not a human MacGuffin meant to drive a plot.

Because you’re more than what bad stories have told you. You’re what the good stories have shown you.

That you deserve to be seen.

And I see you.

Meet Eric Smith

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Bio: Eric Smith is a literary agent and Young Adult author from New Jersey. His books include the Inked series (Bloomsbury) and the forthcoming novel The Girl & The Grove (Flux). He edited the adoption-themed YA anthology Welcome Home (Flux), and can be found talking about YA on Book Riot’s HEY YA podcast with Kelly Jensen. He lives in Ann Arbor with his wife, son, and corgi.

About Welcome Home

Welcome Home collects a number of adoption-themed fictional short stories, and brings them together in one anthology from a diverse range of celebrated Young Adult authors. The all-star roster includes Edgar-award winner Mindy McGinnis, New York Times bestselling authors C.J. Redwine (The Shadow Queen) and William Ritter (Jackaby), and acclaimed YA authors across all genres, like Adi Alsaid, Lauren Gibaldi, Sangu Mandanna, Karen Akins, and many more. (Flux, 2017)

Sunday Reflections: “These Kids Lead Dark Lives”, the Summer The Teen Learned about Privilege

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This summer The Teen has been spending a lot of time with me in the Teen MakerSpace, and it has been an enlightening experience for her.

Let me tell you some of what these teens have talked to her about:

One of our regular teens has an incarcerated father.

Two of our teens have fathers who have recently tried to kill their mothers, one of them in front of the teen.

One of our teens called 911 as her mother ODed on the front lawn.

Another teen has recently moved as she has been placed in a new foster home.

Many of our teens talk openly about the challenges of being poor and their struggles with their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Many of our teens have moved and moved again as they are in financially unstable homes so they move in and out of homes with relatives or have to find new apartments because the rent goes up.

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The truth is, the community that I work in is much different then the community that we live in. And although our family definitely has our challenges, we also have a lot of privilege and The Teen is coming to understand this. At the base line she has married parents who love each other and her. Right out of the gate she has a stability that many of the teens that I serve don’t have.

And as a feminist raising a feminist teenage daughter, she is aware of the challenges of growing up female in this world. But she is growing up white, middle class female which still has its own privilege. To make matters easier for her, she meets conventional beauty standards. Make no mistake, she personally and our family has our own personal challenges, including financial difficulties, a lack of healthy extended family, chronic illness, and more. But she is really gaining an understanding of what privilege is this summer.

So one night a few weeks ago I was tucking her into bed – yes she is a teenager and I tuck her in to bed every night and I will continue to do so until she asks me to stop or moves out of my home – and as I was turning off the light and shutting the door she asked me to come back and talk to her. This, by the way, is the very reason I still tuck her in, this is when our best conversations happen. She looked at me and said, “Mom, some of the kids you work with have really dark lives.” “I know,” I said, “That’s why I do what I do. I learned many years ago that the best service I could give to teenagers is to be a librarian, a mentor, and give them a safe place to come and read stories and get an education and find the tools they needed to make their lives better.”

The Teen making a T-shirt bag in the Teen MakerSpace

The Teen making a T-shirt bag in the Teen MakerSpace

I work in a state different then the state that I live in. I leave my children every few weeks to come and spend time with these other children. It’s a delicate balance of schedules and needs and emotions. I have a great staff that helps me serve these teens and we work hard to create the space and services that we provide. But I think this summer has better helped The Teen understand why I do what I do. These teens have dark lives and I have the honor and privilege of trying to be a light in it. It’s a responsibility that I do not take lightly.

Resources: #MHYALit – Teens and Addiction Brochure

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Earlier this month, I shared two brochures that I created for my library regarding sexual violence and suicide for teens. At that time I was researching and attending some local training about the current opioid epidemic. As promised, I created a brochure and am sharing it with you today. The contact information is local information and the titles are titles that I have in my collection, they are by no means comprehensive.

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real talk addiction brochure 2

A #FSYALit Take 5: A Faith That Bends and Stretches, but Does Not Break (Faith and Spirituality in YA Lit)

tltbutton2Inspired by my reading of The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord, I wanted to put together a Take 5 list of titles that showed teens having their faith challenged but not totally abandoned. So I brainstormed the following list with my fellow TLTers. These books feature teens who ultimately choose to hold on to and maintain their faith, but go through the hard work of questioning, challenging, resenting and, often, changing their faith; Not the core of their beliefs, but the daily details. If you have additional recommendations for this list, please leave us a note in the comments with the title, author, and your recommendation.

Bestest. Ramadan. Ever. by Medeia Sharif

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No pizza. No boyfriend. (No life.) Okay, so during Ramadan, we’re not allowed to eat from sunrise to sunset. For one whole month. My family does this every year, even though I’ve been to a mosque exactly twice in my life. And it’s true, I could stand to lose a few pounds. (Sadly, my mom’s hotness skipped a generation.) But is starvation really an acceptable method? I think not. Even worse, my oppressive parents forbid me to date. This is just cruel and wrong. Especially since Peter, a cute and crushable artist, might be my soul mate. Figures my bestest friend Lisa likes him, too. To top it off, there’s a new Muslim girl in school who struts around in super-short skirts, commanding every boy’s attention–including Peter’s. How can I get him to notice me? And will I ever figure out how to be Muslim and American?

Karen’s Note: This title was recommended for this list by TLTer Heather Booth. Heather says, “I appreciated seeing how a teen navigated integrating her religious practice and expectations in her everyday high school life. She struggled with what fasting and Ramadan meant to her and came to her own conclusions about how she would practice her faith.”

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

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Jill MacSweeney just wishes everything could go back to normal. But ever since her dad died, she’s been isolating herself from her boyfriend, her best friends—everyone who wants to support her. And when her mom decides to adopt a baby, it feels like she’s somehow trying to replace a lost family member with a new one.

Mandy Kalinowski understands what it’s like to grow up unwanted—to be raised by a mother who never intended to have a child. So when Mandy becomes pregnant, one thing she’s sure of is that she wants a better life for her baby. It’s harder to be sure of herself. Will she ever find someone to care for her, too?

As their worlds change around them, Jill and Mandy must learn to both let go and hold on, and that nothing is as easy—or as difficult—as it seems.

Karen’s Note: TLTer Amanda MacGregor immediately went to Sara Zarr for this list, which is a good call. Sara Zarr is a YA contemporary treasure who often touches on and integrates faith into her novels, much the same way that teens integrate faith into their lives.

Like No Other by Una LaMarche

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Fate brought them together. Will life tear them apart? 

Devorah is a consummate good girl who has never challenged the ways of her strict Hasidic upbringing.

Jaxon is a fun-loving, book-smart nerd who has never been comfortable around girls (unless you count his four younger sisters).

They’ve spent their entire lives in Brooklyn, on opposite sides of the same street. Their paths never crossed . . . until one day, they did.

When a hurricane strikes the Northeast, the pair becomes stranded in an elevator together, where fate leaves them no choice but to make an otherwise risky connection.

Though their relation is strictly forbidden, Devorah and Jax arrange secret meetings and risk everything to be together. But how far can they go? Just how much are they willing to give up?

Karen’s Note: I am not Hasidic, nor am I very familiar with this religion, so I can’t attest to how accurate or faithful this depiction is. What I did like about this book, however, was how our MC embraced parts of feminism, which was a direct challenge to her faith, and how she found a way to walk away with some elements of both the religious and feminist parts of her, which were important to her, still in place. It can be hard to integrate feminism with a lot of traditional faith belief systems and this titled spoke to that challenge.

Devoted by Jen Mathieu

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Rachel Walker is devoted to God.

She prays every day, attends Calvary Christian Church with her family, helps care for her five younger siblings, dresses modestly, and prepares herself to be a wife and mother who serves the Lord with joy.

But Rachel is curious about the world her family has turned away from, and increasingly finds that neither the church nor her homeschool education has the answers she craves. Rachel has always found solace in her beliefs, but now she can’t shake the feeling that her devotion might destroy her soul.

Karen’s Note: This book is personal to me. I come from a very conservative background and live and work in very conservative religious communities. However, when faced with the very real challenges of social justice around me, I have slowly moved to a more progressive faith and it is not an easy journey to take. Devoted really captures the judgment, the loss, the alienation, and the abandonment that can come with moving from a conservative to a progressive faith. And just as with Like No Other above, Mathieu highlights the challenges of integrating a more feminist worldview with a more traditional faith system, in this case the Quiverful movement.

The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord

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Lucy Hansson was ready for a perfect summer with her boyfriend, working at her childhood Bible camp on the lake. But when her mom’s cancer reappears, Lucy falters—in faith, in love, and in her ability to cope. When her boyfriend “pauses” their relationship and her summer job switches to a different camp—one for troubled kids—Lucy isn’t sure how much more she can handle. Attempting to accept a new normal, Lucy slowly regains footing among her vibrant, diverse coworkers, Sundays with her mom, and a crush on a fellow counselor. But when long-hidden family secrets emerge, can Lucy set aside her problems and discover what grace really means?

Karen’s Note: Earlier this week I said, “Lucy’s rage at God and the questioning of everything she ever believed in is the most real expression of faith I have ever read in a YA novel.”

#MHYALit: A Letter to My Teen Self, by author Sara Wolf

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As part of our ongoing discussion of teens and mental health, we are honored to host author Sara Wolf, who has written a beautiful letter to her teen self. You can find all the #MHYALit posts here.

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Dear Teen Me,

In the grand scheme of things, you’re a bit of a shit, aren’t you? You refuse to like anything everybody else does (the Beatles are intolerable), you ripped the boy who tried to kiss you for the first time a new butthole, and worst of all, you wear your hair down all the time like a hippie Rapunzel. Newsflash: living in Hawaii isn’t exactly conducive to not-ponytails. Stop asking why your neck is sweaty all the time.

Stop asking why the boys aren’t good enough for you. Stop mooning over the Senior who left last year. You weren’t in love with him, you just wanted to jump his bones. You don’t know what that means yet, but you will, someday; nothing is wrong with you. You’re not slow, or weird. Contrary to what society tells you, it’s okay not to want a wiener in your face all the time. Your friends aren’t more mature or experienced than you – they’re different. And that’s fine. The boy who tried to kiss you is different, too. Don’t be too hard on him. You’re far more than he can handle – he is only human. You’re an inferno and he only knows how to hold an ember.

You are afraid of sex, and growing up, and it’s alright. Here’s the thing: it’s okay to be afraid. It’s okay to be weak, and I know you hate hearing that, but I’m here to make you hate me. You already hate me, old and comfortable and soft. But I’m smiling at you all the same. It’s okay to be afraid, to shake at the idea of someone touching you. You can barely touch yourself without shaking.

It’s okay.

Take your time.

The burning in your heart is the urge to die. You’re bored and tired and you want to try dying just to feel something, anything. Dying is a challenge and you haven’t had one in so long, not since that Senior went away but he never really talked to you, did he? He touched your hand once and that was enough for you to write a psalm about him. You wanted a challenge from him, but he never followed through. You want a challenge from someone, anyone. Whose brain can match yours? Who is witty and perilously sharp and striding the same knife-edge you are at all times? Whose brain and soul are on fire the same way yours is? Who would even have the courage to set themselves on fire like you? No one. You are special.

I won’t say you aren’t, because I’d be lying. You are the most special thing in the world, to me. I love you. But you’re a little shit and you know it. You wear it proudly, because being a little shit is better than being like everyone else – complacent and quiet and non-confrontational. You are a sword among daggers, a horse among sheep. You fit in, but you don’t belong. Not yet. There are no challenges, no open fields to run in or heads to chop off. Where are your magic powers? You want to be a witch, a magician, you want to be dead. Anything, something other than normal.

So you write.

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And you write, because at sixteen you figured out magic wasn’t real but it needed to be, you had to make it real or you’d lose your mind, your reason for living. This world can be so much more, and you know it. You know it as you sit through those yawn-inducing pep rallies and chemistry classes. You can make the world better, if they’d only give you the chance.

I’ll give you a hint, padawan; no one will give you the chance. You have to make it for yourself, take it, grasp it like Icarus gunning for the sun. You are the end and the beginning, the only existence we’ll have in this world. So keep writing. Keep doing fanfic. Keep crying at night to songs you don’t understand yet. Keep telling yourself there’s a challenge waiting for you out there, because there is. He has a name and a face and he’ll light you up from the inside out. Keep living; because as long as you’re alive, you can make magic.

Keep burning.  

Keep making magic.

Meet Author Sara Wolf

Sara Wolf is a twenty-something author who adores baking, screaming at her cats, and screaming at herself while she types hilarious things. When she was a kid, she was too busy eating dirt to write her first terrible book. Twenty years later, she picked up a keyboard and started mashing her fists on it and created the monster known as the Lovely Vicious series. She lives in San Diego with two cats, a crippling-yet-refreshing sense of self-doubt, and not enough fruit tarts ever.

About Love Me Never (Lovely Vicious #1)

Don’t love your enemy. Declare war on him.

Seventeen-year-old Isis Blake hasn’t fallen in love in three years, nine weeks, and five days, and after what happened last time, she intends to keep it that way. Since then she’s lost eighty-five pounds, gotten four streaks of purple in her hair, and moved to Buttcrack-of-Nowhere, Ohio, to help her mom escape a bad relationship.

All the girls in her new school want one thing—Jack Hunter, the Ice Prince of East Summit High. Hot as an Armani ad, smart enough to get into Yale, and colder than the Arctic, Jack Hunter’s never gone out with anyone. Sure, people have seen him downtown with beautiful women, but he’s never given high school girls the time of day. Until Isis punches him in the face.

Jack’s met his match. Suddenly everything is a game.

The goal: Make the other beg for mercy.
The game board: East Summit High.
The reward: Something neither of them expected. (Entangled Teen, 2015)

#MHYALit: USING YOUNG ADULT LITERATURE TO COMBAT THE SECRECY OF ADDICTION, a guest post by Heather Smith Meloche

Today we are honored to host another #MHYALit Discussion post, this one about addiction. Author Heather Smith Meloche writes about addiction in her new Putnam release, RIPPLE.

You can read all the #MHYALit posts here or click on the #MHYALit tag.

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When I finished writing my novel, Ripple – a contemporary YA about two teens caught up in the ripples of addiction from one generation to the next — and sent it out into the world for publication, I never wanted to be the “face” of it. I wanted the book to stand on the legs I gave it, take its words to whoever needed them, and do the tough promotional work without me. Part of the reason was because I, like many writers, am a private person. Introverted. More comfortable in the confines of my writing study than standing in front of people talking. But the bigger reason I didn’t want to talk publicly about my book was because of secrecy.

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I grew up with an alcoholic stepdad, just as he had grown up with his alcoholic father. And I learned, as he had, that telling people about the liquor-induced chaos behind my front door was only going to make me less “normal,” less accepted, casting a pariah-like shadow on me. So I never talked about it, nor did my family. I rarely invited friends over to my house. My best friends knew of what I lived with, but there was a silent pact to never bring it up.

I thought, as my mother and sister most likely did, that being tight-lipped and closed off was an act of self-preservation, but like a kind of domestic Petri dish, my step-dad’s addiction and my destructive symptoms of living with it grew monumentally, overflowing into the healthy areas of my life as my teen years progressed.

The reason my home life got worse was simple: Addiction is built, cultivated, and perpetuated through silence and secrets. It germinates by being hidden and feeds off the simple maxim that if you don’t state the problem, you can’t fix it. Luckily, I became a writer, realizing quickly that YA literature is one of the best, most healing ways of stating the problem.

Recently, I went into a high school and talked to all the Language Arts students about writing and how I became a novelist. As I talked, I stated that I grew up in an alcoholic home. Heads popped up. I mentioned my husband also grew up with an alcoholic mom who was most likely bipolar, though she was always too drunk and drugged on prescription pills to correctly diagnose, and those high schoolers leaned in closer. When I talked about how my husband and I struggled to combat the patterns of addiction in ourselves, those teens looked at me like I had just physically folded inside out.

I mean, who was I to be saying out loud in such a blunt way that I had lived with addiction and struggled with my own? That’s way too embarrassing to bring inside high school walls. It’s mortifying. Uncool. Un-normal. And still, those kids who were engaged when I spoke were focused and locked in because they, heartbreakingly, understood exactly what I was talking about and felt the need to keep talking about it.

Close to 12 percent of children in the United States live with a parent addicted to drugs or alcohol, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) points out suffering from the emotional stress of living with an addicted parent can lead to irreparable damage socially and emotionally, making these kids more likely to become addicted themselves.* Yet, unlike the affliction of cancer or heart disease, addiction is looked at as an immoral choice made by someone flawed. So community support tends to fall short. The stigma surrounding the mention of addiction is thick, and the isolation felt by those who deal with it is oppressive.

But YA writing brings hope. With YA writers and their editors now able to delve more deeply into tough topics, today’s YA books can tackle the scope of addiction not just in all its gritty reality and tragic circumstances, but also with potentially optimistic outcomes. These stories have the ability to cut through the shame and stigma of talking openly about the issues, and with more discussion, a path is paved for librarians and teachers to more effectively recommend the appropriate book at the appropriate time for each teen reader.

During the promotion of my book, I’ve caught myself telling people my novel “isn’t for everybody” or “it’s really for those who have been through it.” But that’s simply me being the shameful child of an alcoholic — my long-conditioned, knee-jerk reaction to hide the disease. Yet keeping in mind the high social and financial cost of alcoholism and drug abuse affecting everyone, I’ve learned to turn secrets into tools to reach teen readers and get healthy discussions rolling, which, hopefully, can open doors for a forum of understanding and for finding help for those kids who need it.

About RIPPLE

When their too-adult lives lead them down self-destructive paths, these broken teens find a way to heal in this YA novel perfect for fans of Ellen Hopkins.

With her impossible-to-please grandmother on her back about college and her disapproving step-dad watching her every move, Tessa would do anything to escape the pressure-cooker she calls home. So she finds a shot of much-needed power and confidence by hooking up with boys, even though it means cheating on her boyfriend. But when she’s finally caught red-handed, she’ll do anything she can to cover up what she’s done.

Jack is a prankster who bucks the system every chance he gets—each transgression getting riskier and riskier. He loves the thrill, and each adventure allows a little release because his smug smile and suave demeanor in the face of authority doesn’t make life at home with his mom any less tough. He tries to take care of her, but the truth is he’s powerless in the face of her fragile mental health. So he copes in his own way, by defacing public property and pulling elaborate pranks, though he knows in the end this’ll only screw up his life even more.

As they both try not to let their self-destructive patterns get the best of them, Tessa and Jack gravitate toward one another, discovering the best parts of themselves in the process. An honest portrayal of the urges that drive us and finding the strength to overcome them.

Meet Heather Smith Meloche

heathersmithmelocheHeather Smith Meloche has had the honor of winning the Katherine Paterson Prize and the Writer’s Digest National Competition for her children’s/young adult writing. She lives with her family in Michigan and spends her days sampling a wide variety of chocolate, letting her dogs in and out constantly, and writing and reading as much as she can.

Win a Copy of RIPPLE!

Heather has generously donated 3 copies of RIPPLE to give away, 1 each to 3 lucky winners. You must be a U.S. resident to enter to win. Enter by doing the Rafflecopter thingy below by Saturday, November 12th.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

#MHYALit: How to Help, by Ally Watkins

Today our #MHYALit Discussion co-coordinator Ally Watkins shares some tips for helping teens in the midst of a mental health crisis. But not just teens, anyone really.

You can read all the #MHYALit posts here or click on the #MHYALit tag.

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There’s something darkly ironic about dealing with a mental health crisis the year that you’re helping coordinate a project about mental health awareness in YA Lit.

Earlier this year, I wrote a post about how to manage and what it looks like to live with chronic mental health problems. Things were actually pretty good then! I had all of these really great intentions of reading backlist over the summer, doing a bunch of reviews, helping contact guest posters.

And then the bottom dropped out.

I won’t drag y’all through the details with me, but little by little (as it often happens), my cocktail of meds stopped working for me. And by the time I realized what was happening, I was in trouble. Throughout the summer and early fall, me and my mental health team (I’m very grateful to have a good medical team!) attempted five different adjustments to my medications before we settled on a combination that worked. During this, I was in therapy and monitoring my symptoms really closely. The process was something akin to torture. And the side effects? I don’t even know where to start. Special thanks to my friends (including my lovely co-coordinators Karen and Amanda) for helping keep me somewhat grounded throughout this process. I seem to be more regulated now, which is great, because I’m going to need everything that I can to fight the approaching seasonal depressive symptoms I’m already starting to manifest.

This entire episode really got me thinking about the teens that we serve that deal with these illnesses and disorders. The books that we’ve been highlighting throughout this process are all fantastic and important, but what if, like me, a teen is suffering with anxiety so severe that it prevents them from being able to concentrate on a book? We need to find ways to meet suffering teens where they are, especially considering that mental health symptoms often make it difficult for them to seek help or resources on their own.

Audiobooks
Please consider this your regular reminder that audiobooks are books and that listening to them is is reading and not in any way cheating. Audiobooks are basically the only way that I was able to read this summer. Talk to your teens that are dealing with mental health struggles. Ask them what they like to read, and if it would be helpful for you to have those titles in an audio format. Whether it’s lack of focus caused by anxiety or depression or if it’s a side effect, being unable to concentrate on a book is real, and if you’re a reader, it’s a real loss.

Busy Hands

Is there someone on your library staff or in your community that can teach a handiworks class in your library? Whether it be knitting or crocheting or scrapbooking, having something to keep your hands busy (maybe while listening to an audiobook! Or watching something on Hoopla!) can be really helpful for someone whose brain is constantly racing. Consider leaving coloring sheets and colored pencils out in your teen area, or having programs that include this type of craft or activity. If a kid feels like they can be included in library activities despite their illness, they’ll feel the sense of inclusion that we’re always trying for.

Resources

If there are teens in your library that are struggling, try to meet them where they are. Make a resource list of reputable online information about mental illness that they can peruse at home. Include local resources or care providers. Remember that a symptom of anxiety is often not wanting to approach anyone, so they may be seeking this information on their own: having it available for them in a trustworthy list of resources will help them get their hands on correct information curated by a professional.

Fall is a really difficult time for a lot of sufferers of mental illnesses. Let’s do what we can to make it easier on the teens we serve.

#MHYALit: The Best Way to Erase the Stigma of Mental Health – Talk About It!

Today, as part of the Mental Health in YA Lit Discussion (#MHYALit), guest Deanna Cabinian is discussing the importance of talking about mental health in order to help erase the stigma.

You can read all the #MHYALit posts here or click on the #MHYALit tag.

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Recently I had the pleasure of going to a book signing where I met YA authors Jennifer Niven and Kathleen Glasgow. The thing I love about these ladies is they aren’t afraid to go there when it comes to mental health issues. Ms. Niven talked about Finch having bipolar disorder in All the Bright Places and Ms. Glasgow talked about the self-harm Charlie, the main character of her novel Girl in Pieces, struggles with. As I sat there listening to their talk, I thought, this never would have happened when I was sixteen. There were no books like this when I was a teenager; if there were I never heard about them. I thought it was too bad these novels hadn’t come out ten or fifteen years ago when I really could have used them.

One of my very close family members has struggled with OCD, bipolar disorder, and depression—basically the trifecta. I never used to tell people about it, though, and hid my own family’s issues for a long time, almost three decades, because I worried about what people might think. What would they say? Would they judge my family members differently? Would they think I was sick—that these conditions were catching? Would they think we were all freaks?

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When I was twenty-six years old I pulled my two closest coworkers into a conference room (they would later attend my wedding) and told them about what my family had been through and what we were currently dealing with. I just spewed everything in a rush without taking a breath. It was a three-minute summary of what life had been like for the past ten years.

“Everyone knows someone with mental health issues,” my friend said. “It’s not a big deal.” If that was true, though, then why didn’t we talk about it? Why didn’t we talk about how hard it is to see someone go through that? How we spend hours worrying and wondering, are they okay?

There’s always been so much shame surrounding mental illness, to the point that sometimes people wait years to get help. They don’t want to admit they have a problem, that their mind is behaving in ways they can’t control. This is why books like All the Bright Places and Girl in Pieces are so important. They get people talking. They tell people they are not alone. That they are not freaks. They tell people it’s okay to talk about it.

The good news is now people are starting to talk about it en masse. Talking about it is the only way to get loved ones the help they need. It’s also the only way to make a dent in the stigma.

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Do you want to write a guest post and talk about YA lit, teens and mental health? Contact one of us, we’d love to talk with you.

About the Author

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Deanna Cabinian has worked in radio, television, and magazine publishing, but her greatest passion is writing. A graduate of Northern Illinois University, she has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a Master’s degree in sport management. Her debut contemporary YA novel, One Night, was released on September 5. Find her online at deannacabinian.com.