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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.

real talk addiction brochure 1

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.

author photo sara wolf

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.