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#SJYALit: Because Their Stories Matter, a guest post by Danielle Ellison

 Today, author Danielle Ellison joins us as part of our Social Justice in YALit Discussion. You can find all of the #SJYALit Posts here.

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As much as I want to write this guest post, I also don’t want to. It’s a familiar feeling, for me, of why I was nervous to write my newest book and why I am terrified of my next one: I’m not representative of what I’m writing.

In a world of YA where Own Voices matter, where representation matters, where diversity is important—and as someone who stands in support of that—I didn’t want to write a book with a gay teen. I also don’t want to have a MC who is a person of color, which my next in this series. But I am anyway because their stories matter.

Their stories matter.

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My day job is working with teenagers. I love my job and I love my teens, fiercely, even when they say or do or act in messed up teenage ways. I love being a pro-claimed library mom to them.

I don’t love the other parts.

I don’t love having to bite my tongue when I listen to my LGBTQ+ teens talk about being are too afraid to come out to their families because they know if they do, they’ll be homeless.

I don’t love watching one of my teens, who is a fantastic makeup artist and future (self-proclaimed) drag queen, wear beanies and sweats to school because he believes if he dresses as who he is, he will get beat up by rednecks. (His words.)

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I feel pride when I see seventh graders speak out about their gender identity, about their pronouns, about the name they want to be called instead, and stand up to peers who ridicule. (I never knew that much about myself, or the world, in seventh grade because my peers were more invested in boy band drama.) While I embrace that pride, I don’t love hearing some of those same kids talk about how his mom tried to make him wear a dress to picture day. Or how her dad keeps introducing her as his dead name in public, even though dad doesn’t call her that at home. Or how kids at school say comments that imply being a “they” means they have two people inside their head, and in which case wouldn’t that just make them crazy?

I have listened to, cried with, been angered for, sat helplessly by and listened to LGTBQ+ teens (and adult friends) no matter what their gender, identity, race or pronoun, deal with issues of acceptance, trust. How they can’t walk down the street holding their partner’s hand just in case. How they get stares for looking “different”. How they fear every day that today may be the last day they have the rights they fought for.

I’m lucky. I don’t have those fears. I don’t have, and never have had to, face the reality that my parents, my family, my friends could turn their backs on me if they found out who I was wasn’t who they wanted me to be. That doesn’t mean I don’t care, that I won’t fight, that I won’t support, listen to, march with, fight for those who do. In fact, it means the opposite. It means I will.

As fiercely as I love my teens, writing, my job, I love people. I believe that fear shouldn’t be present in their lives, and it makes me sad—and it makes me angry—that humans in our “free” country have to experience any of that.

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These stories matter.

It’s the aftermath of them, too, that matter. It’s the other teens, the ones who lend clothes and give rides and offer bedroom floors to their friends “just in case”. It’s the ones who listen, who care, who fight and argue and march alongside their friends. It’s the stories of those who just love other humans…not because they’re LGBTQ+ or a person of color. Not because of any social issue other than being a friend.

Those stories matter too.

And that’s why I write these stories I’m afraid of. There are more stories out there to be told, and there are some out there being shouted off rooftops. We just have to be brave enough to listen.

About The Sweetheart Sham:

In a small town like Culler, South Carolina, you guard your secrets like you guard your cobbler recipe: with your life. Georgia Ann Monroe knows a thing or two about secrets: she’s been guarding the truth that her best friend Will is gay for years now. But what happens when a little white lie to protect him gets her into a fake relationship…and then the boy of her dreams shows up?

Enter Beau Montgomery: Georgie’s first love, hotter than ever, and much too much of a southern gentleman to ever pursue someone else’s girl. There’s no way to come clean to Beau while still protecting Will. But bless their hearts, they live in Culler—where secrets always have a way of revealing themselves.

Disclaimer: This Entangled Teen Crush book contains a hilarious “fakeship,” a scorching-hot impossible relationship, and a heartwarming best-friendship that will make you want to call your best friend right here, right now.

Buylinks: https://entangledpublishing.com/the-sweetheart-sham.html

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33025418-the-sweetheart-sham

About Danielle Ellison:

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Danielle Ellison is a nomad, always on the lookout for an adventure and the next story. In addition to writing, she’s the founder and coordinator of the NoVa TEEN Book Festival. When she’s not busy with books, she’s probably watching her favorite shows, drinking coffee, or fighting her nomadic urges. She is newly settled in Oklahoma (for now) with her cat, Simon, but you can always find her on twitter @DanielleEWrites.