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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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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.

Who in the world am I? Growing up in Wonderland, a guest post by Nicky Peacock

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Last year was Alice in Wonderland’s 150th anniversary, and this inspired me to re-read the book as an adult. I’d always known there were certain themes flowing through the story: growing up, madness, etc. but it was only on this second read that I started to truly understand them. My book, Lost in Wonderland, then began to take shape in my mind.

Adolescence is a difficult process for everyone, but it is universal. We all go through stages of high emotions and frustrations and feeling like our bodies are changing beyond our control. In Alice in Wonderland, we can see a perfect example of this when Alice drinks from the ‘Drink Me’ bottle, and her body shrinks, making her too small to use the key to open the door she wishes to enter. When you grow up, you are given more responsibilities as a teenager; you suddenly become a small person in a very big world.

When Alice eats the cake, she grows to massive proportions. Just like when our bodies change through our teens; we feel awkward and out of control. She is now far too big to enter the door, so starts to weep. She shrinks into the salty pool – consumed by her emotions.

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Then she meets Mouse, my own character’s namesake. Mouse introduces her to a party of animals that Alice frightens by talking about her cat and once again Alice finds herself alone. We all experience delicate peer social systems in these years. The wrong words or actions can quickly bring on ridicule and abandonment, but are these fair-weather people who we want in our lives?

The perpetual Mad Hatter’s Tea Party is an excellent example of particular peer groups that we all find in our schools. Those who appear to be having fun, yet in reality are not getting anywhere in life. Alice wants to join in but is ostracized and insulted – a blessing in disguise?

The Queen of Hearts is a totally unfair ruler, and perhaps this is similar to how we can feel about our parents and guardians through our teens. Doing and saying things we don’t understand, and feeling that they are being ‘un-needlessly harsh.’ when they do not concede to our wishes – no matter how right we think we are.

On the face of it, Alice seems to have incredible adventures in Wonderland, but when you re-read it, it becomes obvious that she has to run a gauntlet of emotionally draining trials and is dramatically thrown from one weird situation to another.

When I wrote my book, Lost in Wonderland, I didn’t want to just re-hash the original Alice story; taking the themes of growing up and being lost and threading them through a supernatural thriller. I wanted to give it a modern twist that was ultimately about Alice but didn’t star her.

My protagonist, Mouse, looks like a little girl but is, in fact, much older. Although this aids her in baiting serial killers, it hinders her life. She’s developed a love of high-heeled shoes to try to compensate for this almost eternal youth and is sometimes needlessly violent. She works for a vigilante group known as Wonderland that gives their operatives codenames from the Lewis Carroll book in honor of a murdered young girl called Alice.  Mouse’s brother Shilo is her opposite. He has grown into a man, but behaviors like a child, worrying about mythical monsters and talking to an imaginary friend. Both are trapped in their own Wonderlands and only when they work together do they start to find their way out.

Puberty is hard for everyone and the key is to realize that you are not alone.  Being a teenager is temporary so make the most out of it. Believe in as many as six impossible things before breakfast. Embrace your emotions as you make your way through your own Wonderland. And remember this; no matter how insane of frustrating your life gets know in your heart that you will find your way out to become the person you want to be.

And if imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality, read books, preferably my books, but if you’d like to read others I won’t hold it against you…much :)

“Have I gone mad?”

“I’m afraid so, but let me tell you something, the best people usually are.”

― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

About Nicky Peacock

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Nicky Peacock is an Amazon best-selling author of YA books. She has two series with Evernight Teen: Battle of the Undead and The Twisted and the Brave. She also has over 30 short stories published in horror and paranormal romance anthologies. In her spare time she runs a local writers’ group and volunteers to run creative writing workshops in schools and libraries to encourage the next generation of budding authors. You can find out more information here: https://nickypeacockauthor.wordpress.com/

Lost in Wonderland can be bought on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Wonderland-Twisted-Brave-Book-ebook/dp/B01E9NX1W2/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1460706742&sr=8-2&keywords=nicky+peacock

Looking for a FREE Halloween read? Traitors’ Gate – prequel to the Battle of the Undead series is a historical vampires VS zombies YA read and can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Traitors-Battle-Undead-Nicky-Peacock-ebook/dp/B01KGBLIN0/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473099917&sr=8-1&keywords=traitors+gate+nicky

#MHYALit: Five Ways to Cope: A Survival Guide for Family Members of Those with Mental Illnesses

If 1 in 4 adults suffers from some type of mental illness, and they do, then that means that a significant portion of our teenagers are living in families that are affected by mental illness. Today, as part of the Mental Health in YA Lit Discussion (#MHYALit), guest Deanna Cabinian shares some tips for surviving as a caregiver to those with mental illness. You can read all the #MHYALit posts here or click on the #MHYALit tag.

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One thing that isn’t talked about often when talking about mental illness is the effect it can have on family members. I have close loved ones who’ve struggled with OCD, depression, and bipolar disorder and have firsthand knowledge of how difficult it can be for those on the sidelines. Over the last twenty years I’ve developed some strategies for coping. Here are my tips:

  1. Talk about it. Talk to a friend, another family member, or a coworker. Share as much or as little about the situation as you would like. Book an appointment with a therapist if necessary—there is no shame in seeking professional help. Venting about what’s happening in your life helps release some of the stress.
  1. Sweat it out at the gym. Do cardio, yoga, or weight training. Walk around a local forest preserve. Eight years ago, when things were especially hard I took up running in a major way, competing in 5Ks, 10Ks, and at my peak of running fitness a half-marathon. Running was the one activity that calmed my mind down and allowed me to focus on something else rather than what was happening at home.
  1. Keep up with your passions and hobbies. If you love to craft or play the guitar do not give it up just because it might seem selfish under the circumstances. If you start to lose yourself your situation will start to feel even more out of control. Go ahead and take your Wednesday night cooking class. You putting your life on hold is not helping your family member.
  1. Seek out others in similar situations. Talking to people who have been through the same things you have is a relief and makes you feel like you’re not alone. NAMI is a great organization that connects you with others who have been through exactly what you’re going through. They have chapters all over the country. I highly recommend their family to family class.
  1. Write about what’s happening, even if you have no plans to share it. Making a list of what worries you or what frustrates you about a particular situation is another good way to relieve stress. The best part about it is you don’t have to be a writer or like writing to do it. Keep the list around and cross items off if things improve. Better yet, tear the list up—you can always make a new one.

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.

Serving Full T.I.L.T. (Teens in Libraries Today): By the numbers, making the case for teen services with demographics

The idea for Serving Full T.I.L.T. began with a seemingly simple question: How do you convince library administrators, staff and your local community that we need to be serving teens? One of the answers seems obvious to me and amounts to basically why would you want to invest in children and then start ignoring them when they become teenagers? If our goal is to meet the needs of our community, that has to include teenagers. Teenagers are a part of our community, they have needs and failing to help meet those meets is detrimental to us all. And if another goal is to grow lifelong learners and library users/supporters then we would be harming ourselves as well as our communities to neglect the unique needs of teenagers. But many administrators and staff want more information, often in the forms of numbers and facts as opposed to philosophical underpinnings. Library budgets are tight, which translates into tight resources. So over the next few weeks (full schedule at the end of this post), we ( Heather Booth, Eden Grey, Rebecca Denham and myself) will be trying to work on building a strong case for YA library services. Today we start with a basic demographic overview of how many teens there are in the U.S., what their lives look like, and what we need to know to start truly understanding who they are and where they are coming from. This information is a good starting point, but you will also want to use your resources to build a local portrait as well.

In Understanding the Community, Pramila Aggarwal suggests looking at the following areas to help you better understand and define your local community:

  • Geographic, corporate, jurisdictional boundaries
  • Demographics, statistics, subgroups
  • History, community strengths
  • Political structure, governance
  • Economic structure, major or key employers
  • Community action organizations
  • Civic and service problem

Not all of these will apply to the idea of serving teens, though understanding local politics and other areas can certainly help you understand who they key players are in your community to rally support, to identify any potential detractors, and to find other service organizations that serve teens to create networking partnerships and share information. Today we will look at basic demographics and break that down to help us develop a portrait of who our teens are today.

How many teens are there?

Why serve teens? The answer seems simple to me, because they are a unique group with unique developmental needs and we want to meet those because we are in the business of serving the people in our communities. Corporations and marketers realized not only the sheer number but the spending influence that teens have years ago and have very successfully tapped into the teen market. Many libraries, however, have lagged behind in this knowledge and we are still arguing for libraries to create and maintain quality services to teens. But the numbers suggest that if we really want to serve our communities, we need to do better with teen services.

According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, there were 41,844,000 youth age 10-19 in the United States, 14% of the total U.S. population, in 2012 [1]. (Source: Act for Youth)

According to the YALSA paper on the future of library services for and with teens, “There are over 40 million adolescents, aged 12–17, living in the United States today, and they use libraries”. We can’t be in the business of ignoring 40 millions teens if we are serious about our mission to our local communities. And it’s not just about building future library users, it’s about understanding that teens today are – or can be – library users; they have real needs and we fail our communities if we fail to provide appropriate and quality services and collections to teens. Teens are not just the adults of the future, they are very real people with very real needs today, we should be in the business of meeting those needs.

You can use tools like the U.S. Census Bureau State and County Quick Facts to develop a more community specific portrait. City-Data is another resource that can help you develop a clear statistical portrait of your local service community. Don’t forget that libraries usually serve large areas and there can be a wide variety of smaller communities within those service areas. In Ohio, for example, many libraries serve large counties and what the local service area looks like can differ from branch to branch. So I think our goal should be to understand the big picture, but also all of the smaller pictures around us.

Who are teens today?

Part of the discussion permeating the Twitterverse and online universe is the need for more diversity to be represented in YA literature. The #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign is important because we do in fact live in a diverse world. Whatever your immediate service community may or may not look like, the truth remains that the United States is an increasingly diverse nation and understanding that helps us better understand and serve our teens.

According to that same YALSA paper mentioned above, “there are currently 74.2 million children under the age of eighteen in the United States; 46% of them are children of color.” The YALSA paper goes on to state that, “today more than one-fifth of America’s children are immigrants or children of immigrants”.

Approximately 5% of teens today have some type of a disability. (Source: Unicef Children and Young People with Disabilities Fact Sheet)

According to the NCCP, approximately 20% of adolescents have a diagnosed mental health issue. In addition to their own mental health, a variety of teens are living in houses where they are being raised by a parent who suffers from some type of mental health issue. Approximately 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder. These are the parents, grandparents, and loved ones of many of our teens.

In terms of sexuality, PFLAG New York states that “reliable estimates indicate that between 4 and 10% of the population is gay, which means in a public school system of more than one million, like New York City, there are at least 40,000 to 100,000 gay students.” And remember that gender and sexual identity goes beyond just being gay or straight to include things like transgender youth, asexuality, questioning teens and more. For more information check out Amanda MacGregor’s resources for building collections and serving LGBTQ teens. Hannah Mitchell put together this Prezi on Statistics About QUILTBAG Kids that also provides some good statistical information.

When discussing the spiritual lives of teens the Barna Group notes that, “Teenagers are consistently among the most religiously active Americans, with nearly 6 out of every 10 teens engaged in some type of group spiritual activity in a typical week.” But having a spiritual life does not automatically translate to evangelical Christian. For example, 1% of the U.S. population is Muslim, another 1% is Buddhist and around 2% are Jewish. 16% are unsure or identify as Atheist. (Source: Pew Research Statistics on Religious and Public Life Project ; Child Trends Research Brief on Spirituality and Religiosity Among Youth)

The high school dropout rate has declined over several years, but still rests somewhere around 7.4% according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In total 1.2 million students drop out, or 1 student every 26 seconds according to Do Something. The flip side of course means that over 90% of students go one to graduate from high school, though 25% fail to graduate on time.

When looking at teen pregnancy, it is interesting to note that teen birth rates are also declining. In the year 2013 there were 26.6 births for every 1,000 teen girls. (Source: Office of Adolescent Health)

When looking at drug and alcohol use, it’s interesting (though not in a good way) to note that by their senior year 50% of students report having abused a drug of some kind. You can find more teen drug and alcohol use statistics at Teen Rehab.com or at the CDC.

Nationwide violence is down, and this is also true for acts of violence committed by teens. However, homicide remains a leading cause of death among youth and assault incidences result in around 700,000 youth seeking emergency care each year. (Source: CDC Youth National and State Violence Statistics) Another source maintains that youth are likely to be both the main perpetrators and victims of violence. Dating violence is also another important statistics to note as 1.5 million high school teens report being the victim of abuse by a dating partner (Source: Love is Respect)

Find a variety of teen statistics in infographic form here

The truth is that teens, like all demographic groups, are a very diverse group. Recognizing and understanding diversity is important, communicating that diversity is even more so, especially in those smaller town communities where our co-workers may not see that diversity and understand the importance of meeting the needs of not only the perceived majority populations, but the populations that are often under represented. In other area of statistics it is interesting to note that many of the negative complaints you hear lodged against teens – for example teen pregnancy and drop out rates – have been dropping for a pretty steady period. They are still significant factors, but the perception that some have regarding teens seems to be inconsistent with the facts. As teen advocates, knowing and communicating this information is important.

What is their financial situation?

Perhaps one of the greatest factors that affect the teens we serve are the economic situations in their homes. Income can affect a wide variety of factors, from whether or not our teens have their basic needs met to what types of access they have to technology and education resources. Understanding the economics of our local communities can impact that types of services we provide. Libraries in lower income areas often find themselves challenged to meet more basic survival needs as well as education and recreation needs by providing things like summer lunch programs. Whereas higher income areas may focus more on high tech and college preparation programming. It’s not because these things aren’t important everywhere, but because different communities have different primary and immediate needs.

More than 16 million children in the United States – 22% of all children – live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level – $23,550 a year for a family of four. Research shows that, on average, families need an income of about twice that level to cover basic expenses. Using this standard, 45% of children live in low-income families. (Source: NCCP)

Median family income in U.S. households with children was $59,500 in 2012. This amount is low by comparison with income in 2008, but higher than in the intervening years [9].

The percentage of adolescents (age 12-17) living in families with low income increased from 36% in 2006 to roughly 41% in 2012 [10]. Nineteen percent of this age group live below the poverty line [10]. (Source: Act of Youth)

Recent reports indicate that in the year 2013 1 in 30 youth were homeless at some point.

In 2012, 31% of children lived with parent(s) who did not have steady, full-time employment [11]. In 2011, 22% of all children (under age 18) lived in families that were at times unable to provide enough food [6]. (Source: Act for Youth)

The number I hear repeated frequent from a variety of sources is that 1 out of 5 youth are living with what is called food insecurity, the idea that income is unstable and they are not sure where their next meal will come from.

Not all communities are struggling financially, but somewhere around 45% of our teens are. Understanding this number is essential to providing balanced services. Even in well off communities, that doesn’t mean that all of our patrons have access to e-readers so we can’t abandon physical books altogether. Even schools that give a laptop or tablet to each student needs to be aware of the fact that a percentage of their students go home to homes without the wireless access to use them outside of school. Understanding the economic diversity of our local service communities is essential to providing access to resources, services and more.

What do their families look like?

As I have spent time with my teens over the years I have marveled over what a family can look like. My tween is currently the only person with an intact nuclear family that she knows, though we have had our own fair share of challenges. I have worked with teens being raised in foster homes, by grandparents, with a network of half and step siblings, etc. Understanding the various ways that a family can look helps us understand the unique challenges our teens can face. Many of them split time between more than one house, which comes with its own challenges. And yes, some of them are growing up in their childhood home with an intact nuclear family. Some have no siblings while others have 3, 4, 5 or more.

The increase in the number of only children you think you see is not in your imagination.  The rate of onlies has doubled.  20% of children are now being raised as only children.

Further digging revealed that the US Census government report indicates that 56% of married households have no children in the home.  Less than 10% have 3 or more children under the age of 18 in the home.  These statistics vary based on age and various other demographics. {www.census.gov/prod/cen2010/briefs/c2010br-14.pdf} (from a previous post on Siblings)

Recent findings indicate that 55% of 15 to 17 year olds do not live in an intact family.

Where Do Teens Live?

Remember the story about the city mouse and the country mouse? Just out of curiosity I thought I would look to see where teens today live. According to the numbers, it looks like a lot of teens live in suburbs. Though some of us are in city libraries so that number if irrelevant to us. Others of us can pull in from both rural areas and our local cities, I know this was true for me when working in Ohio where it goes from one to the other quite quickly.

In 2002, over half (54%) of adolescents age 12-17 lived in suburbs, 27% in rural areas, and 19% in central cities [7].

In 2007, about 82% of children lived in large urban or suburban areas, and nearly 9% lived in small towns (under 50,000) or more rural areas [8]. (Source: Act for Youth)

The truth is, I am sure there is a lot more information we could research to help us build those portraits of teens that we have been talking about. If you have information to add, please do so in the comments. But I think this is a good starting point. Next Wednesday, Rebecca Denham is going to discuss some basics of adolescent development that will better help us serve our teens.

Resources Consulted:

Be sure to check out all of the posts in the Serving Full T.I.L.T. Series:

January 14 By the Numbers, making the case for teen services using basic demographic information (Karen Jensen)

January 21 Sarcasm, Spice and Everything Awesome: The Developing Teen (Rebecca Denham)

January 28 Brain Science 101 (Heather Booth)

February 4 Asset Building 101, How using the 40 Developmental Assets can help us plan and evaluate teen programming (Karen Jensen)

February 11 Diverse teens, diverse needs (Eden Grey)

February 18 Sharing stories, how knowing and sharing the stories of our teens can help make the case (Heather Booth)

February 25 Empathy, remembering what it means to be a teen and how it makes us better teen services librarians (Heather Booth)

March 4 A Teen Services 101 Infographic (Rebecca Denham and Karen Jensen)

March 11 Talking Up Teens: Discussing Teen Services with Library Administration (Eden Grey)