Subscribe to SLJ
Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Book Review: Sparrow by Sarah Moon

Publisher’s description

ra6Sparrow has always had a difficult time making friends. She would always rather have stayed home on the weekends with her mother, an affluent IT Executive at a Manhattan bank, reading, or watching the birds, than playing with other kids. And that’s made school a lonely experience for her. It’s made LIFE a lonely experience.

But when the one teacher who really understood her — Mrs. Wexler, the school librarian, a woman who let her eat her lunch in the library office rather than hide in a bathroom stall, a woman who shared her passion for novels and knew just the ones she’d love — is killed in a freak car accident, Sparrow’s world unravels and she’s found on the roof of her school in an apparent suicide attempt.

With the help of an insightful therapist, Sparrow finally reveals the truth of her inner life. And it’s here that she discovers an outlet in Rock & Roll music…

 

Amanda’s thoughts

sparrowA middle grade book that deals with mental health? YES, please.

14-year-old Brooklyn 8th grader Sparrow has debilitating social anxiety. She has always dealt with her fear and shyness by flying away—not literally, of course, but pretty close. She pictures herself off with the birds, away from everything on land that makes her uncomfortable. When she’s found on the school roof during one of her flying episodes, everyone assumes it’s a suicide attempt and won’t hear otherwise. Sparrow begins therapy with Dr. Katz. At first, she’s reluctant to open up, worried Dr. Katz will think she’s crazy. It doesn’t help that her mother isn’t thrilled that she’s in therapy and thinks of it as White Girl Stuff (Sparrow and her mother are black). But slowly, Sparrow begins to talk to Dr. Katz, admitting to herself and her mother how much good the therapy is doing. School is still hard for her, especially because her beloved favorite teacher, Mrs. Wexler, the librarian, died earlier in the year. Sparrow had spent every lunch since 5th grade in the library, finding solace in both the library and Mrs. Wexler. Everything since her death has been harder. But therapy is helping, as is her new (and intense) interest in music. Dr. Katz introduces her to older punk and indie music (think Pixies, Sonic Youth, Patti Smith), and Sparrow revels in the connective and redemptive power of music. Dr. Katz pushes Sparrow to learn how to deal with all of the things that make her want to fly away, but it’s really through a month-long girls’ rock music camp that Sparrow begins to find her voice and overcome her fears.

 

This is a fantastic book for older middle grade readers. Sparrow, though silent through much of school, is such a profoundly real character. Readers get to know her well far sooner than her peers get to know her. She’s funny and bitingly clever. Her passion for books and music will send readers seeking out the bands they’ve maybe never heard of or delighting in seeing their favorite titles or songs as part of the story. Dr. Katz, Mrs. Wexler, and Mrs. Smith, the English teacher, are wonderfully supportive, compassionate adults who see Sparrow for who she is. Though her mother is wary of therapy and Dr. Katz, she loves Sparrow and wants the best for her. She may not totally understand what her daughter is going through or how to best help her, but she’s open to doing whatever seems right for Sparrow and desperately wants to be a part of Sparrow’s very private inner life. Well-written, emotionally powerful, and packed with stand-out characters, this middle grade title is a must for every library. A welcome addition to the small field of middle grade books that address mental health. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781338032581
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date: 10/10/2017

#MHYALit Book Review: 100 Days of Cake by Shari Goldhagen

Publisher’s description

100 daysGet well soon isn’t going to cut it in this quirky and poignant debut novel about a girl, her depression, an aggressive amount of baked goods, and the struggle to simply stay afloat in an unpredictable, bittersweet life.

Every other senior at Cove High School might be mapping out every facet of their future, but Molly Bryne just wants to spend the rest of the summer (maybe the rest of her life) watching Golden Girls reruns and hanging out with her cute coworker at FishTopia. Some days, they are the only things that get her out of bed. You see, for the past year, Molly’s been struggling with depression, above and beyond industry-standard teen angst. Crushing on her therapist isn’t helping, and neither is her mom, who is convinced that baking the perfect cake will cure her—as if icing alone can magically make her rejoin the swim team or care about the SATs.

Ummm, no, not going to happen.

But when Molly finds out FishTopia is turning into a lame country diner, her already crummy life starts to fall even more out of her control, and soon she has to figure out what— if anything—is worth fighting for. 100 Days of Cake is a quirky and poignant story of a girl, her depression, an aggressive amount of baked goods, and the struggle to simply stay afloat in an unpredictable, bittersweet world.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Everyone else seems to know what’s happening in the next year. They’re preparing for college—taking tests, participating in extracurricular activities, volunteering. Molly can hardly bring herself to get out of bed, much less think about what might happen after senior year. She really just wants to hang out at FishTopia and ignore the rest of the world. Her coworker, Alex, clearly has a crush on her, but Molly really would rather he didn’t. She shoots him down whenever he tries to make plans with her. Her last boyfriend ditched her when he realized that she wasn’t how he thought she would be—that she was a complicated person who has depression. She can’t see any other relationship working as long as she feels how she feels. She’s getting help, though. She has a therapist and is medicated, though she often wonders if she should be on a different medication, one that might work better. Goldhagen really captures how heavy and isolating depression can  feel. Molly feels like everyone hates her and lashes out at her friends and family. She bails on plans all the time because following through with them seems to take an impossible amount of energy that there’s no way Molly can conjure up. She has okay days and terrible days. And she can’t understand why on Earth her mother seems to think eating some new terrible cake every day will maybe help fix her current state of mind when medication and therapy can’t. 

 

I really liked Molly’s best friend, Elle, who could be a little overbearing at times, but always was a good friend to Molly and did her best to understand what was going on with her. I liked Molly’s mom, who is seriously worried about her depressed kid (for the obvious reasons and ones we don’t come to understand until much later in the book) and seems to be doing her best to help her/leave her alone when she needs to be left alone. I thought I liked her therapist, a 90s music- Say Anything-obsessed guy but, without revealing some major spoilers, suffice it to say I did not end up having a very high opinion of him. However, I did like that Molly was getting a lot out of therapy and learned to open up in her sessions. Her relationship with her sister was also really interesting. Veronica has a few meltdowns (one particularly cruel) over the attention Molly gets because of her depression. Molly’s depression is a big character in this story. It permeates literally every relationship she has and is behind all of her decisions (or lack of decisions). 

 

Though I wanted to see some kind of consequences for Dr. B (she wrote cryptically, not spoiling anything), overall this story was a satisfying read. Molly’s depression is severely getting in the way of her actually living her life and she’s working to get help, even if she feels like maybe the help she’s getting won’t be enough to “fix” her. The ending feels hopeful, even though Molly is now armed with some new and shocking information and a seriously questionable therapy experience. I value this book for its open discussion of medication and therapy and its look at how depression can affect everyone around the depressed person. Definitely worth adding to the growing list of interesting books about mental health issues. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481448567

Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Publication date: 05/17/2016

#MHYALit: What You Want to Hear, a guest post by Shari Goldhagen

MHYALitlogoofficfial

In 100 Days of Cake, Molly has a, um, confused relationship with her therapist. Her friends and family love her and would love to fix her, but they don’t really understand what she’s going through, so a lot of times—like when her mom decides to bake all the cakes—their efforts aren’t particularly helpful and then Molly ends up feeling even worse because then she’s feel guilty for wasting everyone’s time. But Dr. Brooks understands depression and anxiety; he just gets Molly . . .

 

That would be great, except that Molly is so jazzed that someone finally likes her even when she’s not forcing her face into an unnatural smile, that she starts to notice how square and stately Dr. B’s jawline is and how he looks all nice and muscle-y under his polo shirts. . . . She wants to make sure he keeps on liking her no matter what. And because his interest is always piqued when she talks about her parents, she’ll gladly invent some memories of her dead dad if that keeps Dr. B looking at her intensely with those smoldering eyes.

 

I’ve never crushed on my therapist the way Molly does, but I have had that impulse to want to make my therapists like me. . . or find me horribly interesting and complicated in a good way. Maybe everyone in therapy feels this way, but I also wonder if it has to do with how and where I grew up.

 

Currently I live in Manhattan, where everyone is in therapy or looking for a new therapist, and it’s not uncommon to ask even the most casual of acquaintances to recommend a good shrink. But I grew up in suburban Cincinnati and analysis was NOT all the rage. In high school the only person I knew who had ever been to a psychologist was my boyfriend (his mom was a native New Yorker), and I found it exotic and vaguely disturbing—like his involvement in a popular youth group, it seemed a possible reason we might not ultimately be a great fit.

 

The summer I graduated from Northwestern, however, I found myself prone on the couch starring at the ceiling a good chunk of the day. Boyfriend had ended up being a pretty good fit (for a while) and we’d stayed together despite going to schools in separate states, he wanted us to move somewhere together, but those decisions seemed too big. A restaurant trade magazine offered me a job based on work I’d done in my college newspaper (the economy was that good then), but every morning I would say a silent prayer to someone that the elevator would get stuck before I got to the office. It wasn’t that the job was awful; it wasn’t. It wasn’t that in school I’d written a novel as my thesis and boatloads of stories I cared about deeply for the college paper; at the magazine I wrote about commercial ovens and new frozen appetizers.  Boyfriend was the one who suggested I talk to someone; my job had health insurance, so I made an appointment with the first person in the Blue Cross/Blue Shield directory.

 

“I can’t really help you,” Therapist One said about a half hour into our session. “You’re just bored.”

 

Bored was doodling on a notebook during a micro econ lecture; crying in the closet each morning and crippling indecisiveness seemed an entirely different beast.

 

“You need to volunteer,” Therapist One said.

 

I didn’t do that. I made an appointment with therapist Two.

 

On the way to her sleek and shiny office, I got lost. By the time I showed up, I was flustered and sweaty and ten minutes late. She asked me to explain why I was seeking treatment, but stopped me few minutes in and told me I was a textbook case for severe anxiety

 

“You were able to make it through school?” she asked incredulously, as if I were a dog who had mastered three languages and figured out nuclear fusion.

 

“I had straight As,” I shot back.  That wasn’t technically true. . .like at all. But I’d had an A – average and the reason I didn’t have straight A’s probably had a lot more do with watching Real World marathons with my roommates than crippling anxiety.

 

Therapist Two wanted to “try” me on a cocktail of anti-depressants and anxiety meds. Before she could write the scripts, however, I’d have to get a lot of blood work done at the lab next door.  I wasn’t a fan of having blood work done; I wasn’t a fan of the way she’d decided that I was a puddle unfit for college. Maybe I just needed to volunteer? (For the record, I’m not against meds, and have benefitted them at other points in my life; I just wasn’t a fan of her deciding that five minutes after meeting me).

 

I threw away the lab form, and went down the Blue Cross/Blue Shield psychologist list.

 

Like some Woody Allan retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Therapist Three was just right! To her I wasn’t some bored privileged kid who needed to think beyond herself; Nor was I a basket case that needed an IV of pharmaceuticals to eat Cheerios. No, she got me. As I explained why I was seeking treatment she nodded. She asked follow up questions! She took copious notes!

 

“What you’re going through is called an Early Life Crisis,” she explained. “I’m writing a book on the subject.”

 

It had a name! Everything she said was like being clobbered off the head with one of those cartoon idea light bulbs. Struggling to define a new place after success in college. Unclear about how to proceed with existing relationships. Lack of direction.

 

She liked me!  And I wanted her to keep liking me—not because I had romantic fantasies about her the way Molly does with Dr. Brooks—but because it felt nice to have someone take me seriously.

 

Most of the things I told her were true. But then I found myself starting to tweak things a teeny tiny bit into what I thought she wanted to hear. After I told her a story about a recent fight I’d had with a male friend, she nodded enthusiastically. “So he was kind of like a brother figure?” she asked.

 

Not unless your brother hit on you a lot. “Yeah,” I said, and then twisted a few stories to better fit that narrative.

 

“And your parents put a lot of pressure on you?” She asked.

 

Nope. “Definitely.” And then a few more invented childhood stories.

 

She was writing a book, and that was something I actually knew about (as opposed to commercial blenders), I’d spent college learning how to create compelling characters and plots that had a beginning, middle and end. It got to the point where I would whip up tales in advance based on what Therapist Three seemed most interested in during prior sessions—it was important to me that I help with her book.

 

After a few months, I maxed out my insurance plan’s allotted sessions. Frankly it was a relief. Therapist Three definitely helped me, but looking back I can’t help but wonder how much more effective she could have been if I’d stayed completely truthful with her.

 

The experience was definitely something I wanted to touch on in 100 Days of Cake. Therapy can be amazing, but it can also be hard to navigate, especially for a young adult who’s unfamiliar with the process.

 

Different practitioners are going to have different approaches, and it’s crucial to find one that you’re comfortable with. And when you do, it’s key that you not worry about that person judging you. Dr. B. is a very flawed therapist, but he’s right when he tells Molly that therapy only works if you’re honest with your doctor.

 

Meet Shari Goldhagen

Shari side small (1)Shari Goldhagen is the author of the novels IN SOME OTHER WORLD, MAYBE (St. Martin’s Press, 2015) and FAMILY AND OTHER ACCIDENTS (Doubleday, 2006), and the YA novel 100 DAYS OF CAKE (Atheneum, 2016). A fellow at both Yaddo and MacDowell, Shari writes about pop culture, travel and relationships for publications including Salon, Cosmopolitan, Us Weekly, Life & Style Weekly, and DaySpa. She lives in NYC with her husband and daughter. Find her online at http://sharigoldhagen.com and @sharigoldhagen.

 

 

 

About 100 Days of Cake

100 daysGet well soon isn’t going to cut it in this quirky and poignant debut novel about a girl, her depression, an aggressive amount of baked goods, and the struggle to simply stay afloat in an unpredictable, bittersweet life.

Every other senior at Cove High School might be mapping out every facet of their future, but Molly Bryne just wants to spend the rest of the summer (maybe the rest of her life) watchingGolden Girls reruns and hanging out with her cute coworker at FishTopia. Some days, they are the only things that get her out of bed. You see, for the past year, Molly’s been struggling with depression, above and beyond industry-standard teen angst. Crushing on her therapist isn’t helping, and neither is her mom, who is convinced that baking the perfect cake will cure her—as if icing alone can magically make her rejoin the swim team or care about the SATs.

Ummm, no, not going to happen.

But when Molly finds out FishTopia is turning into a lame country diner, her already crummy life starts to fall even more out of her control, and soon she has to figure out what— if anything—is worth fighting for. 100 Days of Cake is a quirky and poignant story of a girl, her depression, an aggressive amount of baked goods, and the struggle to simply stay afloat in an unpredictable, bittersweet world.

ISBN-13: 9781481448567

Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Publication date: 05/17/2016

#MHYALit: Writing a Therapy-Positive Book, a guest post by Marisa Reichardt

MHYALitlogoofficfial

Today we are honored to share a guest post by author Marisa Reichardt. You can read my review of Marisa’s book, Underwater, here. For an index of all of the posts in our Mental Health in YA Literature project, please visit our #MHYALit hub

 

 

I’ve been terrified to write this blog post.

 

I’m not an expert when it comes to mental health. What if I say something wrong? Or what if I say something truthful and real but it gets misinterpreted? But then I remember I had those same fears when writing Underwater. And it was exactly those fears that made me push myself.

 

So here I am.

 

Like my main character Morgan Grant in Underwater, I am not a stranger to anxiety. I am not a stranger to needing therapy. I am not a stranger to having emergency pills in my medicine cabinet for the extra rough days.

 

But it wasn’t always that way. When I was in high school, I didn’t know what was happening to me when I had a panic attack that was so bad I thought I was dying. I didn’t know because I didn’t talk about it. I felt like I couldn’t.

 

In the middle of my worst attacks, I would drag a sleeping bag into my brother’s room and sleep on the floor just so I didn’t have to be alone. Just so I could hear someone else breathing.

 

I was a teenager who needed therapy and didn’t have it.

 

When I was in high school, people didn’t talk about mental health the way they do now. So I accepted there was something inherently wrong with me. That there was nothing I could do about the way I felt. I tried to embrace what my mother and friends told me—that I was “too emotional” or just needed to “get over it” when it came to the things that triggered me. As a result, I kept the nervous energy inside of me until it manifested in stomachaches and throwing up at sleepovers.

 

But how did this all start for me? I think it was when my father passed away from cancer when I was in fourth grade. It was traumatic and terrifying and he was horribly and painfully sick for two years. I was too young to fully comprehend what was happening but since my brother was even younger, I somehow became the mature one. I was the one who could handle it. The one who had to be there for my sibling because my mom and dad were too busy dealing with the thing that would change our lives forever.

 

I was a kid who needed grief counseling and didn’t have it.

 

It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I found therapy on my own. I talked. I began to heal. I tried things like biofeedback and meditation. But I am still seeking because therapy isn’t a one and done journey. Sometimes you have to find your way back to it. Life is dynamic and unexpected. This debut author experience has made it clear that I need to find someone to talk to again. And I will.

 

Because therapy isn’t a dirty secret.

 

The most important thing to me in writing Underwater was to write a therapy-positive book because therapy literally saves lives. I could’ve used it as a kid. I could’ve used it as a teenager. I’m glad I found it as an adult. But even though I’ve had my own personal experiences with therapy and anxiety, I knew it wasn’t enough for me to think I could tackle a whole book about it just because I’d been there. For Underwater, I interviewed a psychologist who works specifically with women and teen girls who struggle with anxiety and agoraphobia. Her feedback became crucial to me throughout the writing process.

 

The result was a book of my heart. I’m glad I wrote what scares me. I’m glad I took this journey with Morgan and got to know Brenda. My world became bigger. My understanding went deeper. Writing Underwater helped me feel less alone.

 

I hope it will help others feel less alone too.

 

Meet Marisa Reichardt

Marisa Reichardt_highresMarisa Reichardt is a SoCal native who has paid the bills by shucking oysters, waiting tables, peddling swimwear, tutoring, and writing. She currently lives in Los Angeles with her family and can usually be found huddled over her laptop in coffeehouses or swimming in the ocean. She has a Master of Professional Writing degree from the University of Southern California and dual undergraduate degrees in literature and creative writing from UC San Diego. Underwater is her debut novel. Find her online at her website marisareichardt.com, on Twitter @youngadultish, on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/YoungAdultish, and on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/marisareichardtbooks/

 

About UNDERWATER

Morgan didn’t mean to do anything wrong that day. Actually, she meant to do something right. But her kind act inadvertently played a role in a deadly tragedy. In order to move on, Morgan must learn to forgive-first someone who did something that might be unforgivable, and then, herself. But Morgan can’t move on. She can’t even move beyond the front door of the apartment she shares with her mother and little brother. Morgan feels like she’s underwater, unable to surface. Unable to see her friends. Unable to go to school. When it seems Morgan can’t hold her breath any longer, a new boy moves in next door. Evan reminds her of the salty ocean air and the rush she used to get from swimming. He might be just what she needs to help her reconnect with the world outside. Underwater is a powerful, hopeful debut novel about redemption, recovery, and finding the strength it takes to face your past and move on.

ISBN-13: 9780374368869

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Publication date: 01/12/2016

#MHYALit: Accepting Anxiety, a guest post by Jessica Spotswood

Today we’re honored to have Jessica Spotswood sharing her lifelong experiences with anxiety with us. See all of the posts in the #MHYALit series here. 

MHYALitlogoofficfial

I was twenty-seven when I was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder and prescribed Lexapro to help manage it. It gave name to something that I’ve struggled with since I was a little girl. 

 

 

After my grandmother had a stroke while babysitting me, and subsequently died of a brain tumor when I was seven, I had a visceral reaction to hospitals and an unrelenting fear of doctors. I once overheard my parents talking about a girl at church whose appendix had almost ruptured, and for years afterward I had rampant stomaches and panic attacks that I too had appendicitis. I was at odds with my own body – not the usual awkwardness of being a teenager, but constantly monitoring signs and potential symptoms that I might be secretly dying, that my body might betray me at any moment. I remember lying awake at night worrying that something would happen to my parents and anxiously watching the clock if they were even a few minutes late picking us up. I remember being so anxious I couldn’t eat whenever there was any substantial deviation from my routine (school trips, vacations, etc). Despite all this, I remember being a a sunny, bouncy, endlessly positive girl – everyone’s best friend and confidante. I didn’t talk about my worries. When I tried to, my parents told me to find something to do (the devil makes work for idle hands, I guess?), or suggested that I was worrying about nothing. 

 

So I tried to keep busy. During the school year, I was mostly successful – AP and advanced classes, marching band, concert band, jazz band, fall play, spring musical, editing the school newspaper, copyediting the yearbook. During the summers, I was miserable and anxious. This continued during college and grad school. I was so busy that I was perpetually stressed, but that seemed normal, until it came to a crisis point my last semester of grad school. I was working full-time, doing comp essays, planning my wedding, and looking for a new apartment, while also dealing with my father’s acrimonious divorce from my stepmom and an estrangement from my half-brother. I started getting so furious with myself over small silly things that I’d hit myself or knock my head into a wall. And I knew that wasn’t healthy. But it wasn’t until a friend was diagnosed with lymphoma and I became obsessively worried about a bump on my neck that I went to see my doctor. It turned out the bump was perfectly normal, but when I couldn’t accept that, my primary care physician realized that my anxiety over it wasn’t normal. She prescribed me Lexapro.

 

And the medication helped. I fought against the idea of needing it, felt shamed that I couldn’t just work it out on my own. I’d grown up in a very practical central Pennsylvania Protestant family with a fantastic work ethic. When, as an adult, I tried to explain my anxiety to them, they still suggested that I had too much time to think, that I wasn’t busy enough if I had this much time to worry. What did I have to worry about anyway, they asked? When I first told my mom about the medication, she was quiet and then relayed that medication like that had made my cousin gain weight. As much as I love my family, it became something I couldn’t talk about with them for my own wellbeing. It showed me that even the most loving people can minimize and dismiss and judge mental health issues.

 

I was embarrassed about having anxiety, but I thought, Okay, I’ll take this medication for a while. Surely not forever. I’ll get better. I made a point of blogging about it, of talking openly about therapy and anxiety and meds with my friends. But in my heart of hearts, I was not reconciled to anxiety being part of me, just like my curly hair and blue eyes and love of words. I’d feel better for weeks or months and think hopefully that it had gone away, that I was cured! Then I’d feel crushingly disappointed in myself when it popped up again.

 

ATOP cover smallThe more I chatted with my therapist, the more I realized how much of my identity was wrapped up in anxiety: my need to please, my fierce avoidance of conflict, my fear of the unknown. For a long time, I believed without question that I had to be sunny and perfect and likable to be loved, and that I had to worry obsessively about all the bad things that might happen in order to prevent them. It was a sort of black magical thinking that still lingers with me, though at least I recognize it now. (As I write this, four days away from the release of my newest book, A TYRANNY OF PETTICOATS, I am both delighted by all the positive reviews and buzz, and waiting for the universe to turn on me in some fashion.)

 

The medication helps quiet the worries that circle my brain like vultures. I’m still prey to them sometimes but they fly at enough of a distance that I can use the tools from therapy to ask myself: what is this feeling telling me? Is that true? Do I want to do something about it? If not, can I let it go? I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a few months after I started taking medication, I also began writing fiction again for the first time in years. Without that incessant anxious chatter, there was so much space in my mind – space for stories to grow.

 

And, for a while, things were okay. I still had anxious days. I panicked unnecessarily about regular doctors’ appointments. I sold my first trilogy in a major deal and my dream and my hobby became my job. It was a mixed blessing. For a girl who loves knowing what to expect, publishing is in some ways not the ideal job. (I never know what to expect.) There is so much beyond my control – sales, reviews, the publisher’s publicity, the ever-elusive market. And this business breeds perfectionism. It’s easy to feel never-enough, to compare my behind-the-scenes journey to everyone else’s highlight reels on social media. It’s easy to stay busy-busy-busy, jumping from deadline to deadline, from book release to book release. It’s easy for it to become your everything, your whole identity, in a way that is maybe not healthy. That’s where I was two winters ago, when my husband and I started thinking about trying to have a baby (a discussion that’s since been tabled) and I went off my anti-anxiety medication. I thought I could. I thought I should, even though I was in a strange place job-wise, writing full-time but with no new book under contract.

 

It was fine until it wasn’t. I woke up one sunny morning in March in a total panic. I was home in my own bed, safe, but my brain and body started sending signals that something was really wrong. My thoughts started to loop uncontrollably. What if, what if, what if? What if I never sold another book? What if my husband couldn’t find another teaching job after his adjunct contract was up? What if I had secret cancer? My brain was determined to find a reason for how terrified I felt. The feeling of it had come first, then the thoughts. But anxiety isn’t rational.

 

I started seeing my therapist again, and that helped. But I was miserable. I cried every day. I was hardly eating. I wasn’t writing. Sometimes I didn’t get out of bed until dark. I was determined to figure it out without medication, though. I don’t know why. It felt like if I just worked hard enough, I could do it. I hadn’t been able to make my books a success – at least not by my publisher’s outsize expectations – but surely I could do this. I was desperate to control my own brain. To control something

 

It didn’t work, no matter how hard I tried. After two months, I got to the point where I was feeling – while not actively suicidal – like I didn’t want to live anymore. And that scared me enough that I – who still have a fairly major phobia about doctors – made an appointment. I asked my doctor to put me back on Lexapro.

 

Like before, it’s not magic. I still feel anxious sometimes, I still get irrationally angry with myself for not being perfect, for not doing enough. But those feelings are muted enough that I can use the tools I’ve learned from therapy. And I decided that writing full-time, letting it be my everything, wasn’t healthy for me. I got a part-time job working as a children’s library associate and I edited my anthology and eventually I sold another book and I got into a new routine. And that includes taking anti-anxiety medication every day. 

 

Only now I’m not embarrassed at all. 

 

Now I’m proud. I saved myself. I wasn’t too ashamed or embarrassed to ask for help when I needed it. I work really hard to take care of myself – to not fall into the traps of perfectionism and busybusybusy and self-blame. When your brain is an asshole sometimes, it is really easy to feel ugly and broken​ and not enough​. That’s when I take a step back and remember that a lot of my thoughts about myself are not objectively true. They are not rational. Would I talk that way about a friend? Would I judge them as harshly as I judge myself? (The answer is almost always a resounding no.) I am finally in a place where I – almost always – believe that anxiety is not my fault. That it’s a combination of learned habits that I can change and brain chemistry that I cannot. It’s not about being stronger or better or, Good Lord, busier. When my brain tells me that, it’s being a bully, because that is not true.

 

And if your brain tells you that? Don’t believe it. And don’t be afraid to ask for help, in whatever form that takes. You aren’t broken, eithe​r. You are exactly enough. ​I promise. 

 

Meet Jessica Spotswood

C. Stanley Photography

C. Stanley Photography

Jessica Spotswood is the editor of the historical anthology A TYRANNY OF PETTICOATS and the author of The Cahill Witch Chronicles and the upcoming WILD SWANS. She grew up in a tiny, one-stoplight town in Pennsylvania, where she could be found swimming, playing clarinet, memorizing lines for the school play, or – most often – with her nose in a book. Now she lives in Washington, DC where she can be found working as a children’s library associate for DC Public Library, seeing theatre with her playwright husband, or – most often – with her nose in a book. Some things never change. Website / Twitter / Facebook / Instagram

 

 

About A Tyranny of Petticoats

ATOP cover smallFrom an impressive sisterhood of YA writers comes an edge-of-your-seat anthology of historical fiction and fantasy featuring a diverse array of daring heroines.

Criss-cross America—on dogsleds and ships, stagecoaches and trains—from pirate ships off the coast of the Carolinas to the peace, love, and protests of 1960s Chicago. Join fifteen of today’s most talented writers of young adult literature on a thrill ride through history with American girls charting their own course. They are monsters and mediums, bodyguards and barkeeps, screenwriters and schoolteachers, heiresses and hobos. They’re making their own way in often-hostile lands, using every weapon in their arsenals, facing down murderers and marriage proposals. And they all have a story to tell.

With stories by:
J. Anderson Coats
Andrea Cremer
Y. S. Lee
Katherine Longshore
Marie Lu
Kekla Magoon
Marissa Meyer
Saundra Mitchell
Beth Revis
Caroline Richmond
Lindsay Smith
Jessica Spotswood
Robin Talley
Leslye Walton
Elizabeth Wein

Publisher: Candlewick Press

Publication date: 03/08/2016

 

About Wild Swans

wild swansThe summer before Ivy’s senior year is going to be golden-all bonfires, barbeques, and spending time with her best friends. For once, she will just get to be. No summer classes, none of Granddad’s intense expectations to live up to the family name. For generations, the Milbourn women have lead extraordinary lives-and died young and tragically. Granddad calls it a legacy, but Ivy considers it a curse. Why else would her mother have run off and abandoned her as a child?

But when her mother unexpectedly returns home with two young daughters in tow, all of the stories Ivy wove to protect her heart start to unravel. The very people she once trusted now speak in lies. And all of Ivy’s ambition and determination cannot defend her against the secrets of the Milbourn past…

 

Publisher: Sourcebooks

Publication date: 05/03/2016

Book Review: Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

symptomsPublisher’s description:

Riley Cavanaugh is many things: Punk rock. Snarky. Rebellious. And gender fluid. Some days Riley identifies as a boy, and others as a girl. But Riley isn’t exactly out yet. And between starting a new school and having a congressman father running for reelection in über-conservative Orange County, the pressure—media and otherwise—is building up in Riley’s life.

On the advice of a therapist, Riley starts an anonymous blog to vent those pent-up feelings and tell the truth of what it’s really like to be a gender fluid teenager. But just as Riley’s starting to settle in at school—even developing feelings for a mysterious outcast—the blog goes viral, and an unnamed commenter discovers Riley’s real identity, threatening exposure. And Riley must make a choice: walk away from what the blog has created—a lifeline, new friends, a cause to believe in—or stand up, come out, and risk everything.

From debut author Jeff Garvin comes a powerful and uplifting portrait of a modern teen struggling with high school, relationships, and what it means to be a person.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Well, that extremely thorough summary up there really hits most of the main pieces of this story. This is 100% the story of a gender fluid teen. That fact is at the heart of every piece of this plot. We read the term “gender fluid” over and over again as we learn exactly what that means to Riley. Readers who are unfamiliar with what being gender fluid means (or means to one person) will walk away with a pretty complex picture of this identity .

 

Riley is starting at a new school. Riley’s father is a congressman, which matters because he’s up for re-election and needs Riley to attend fundraisers and help his campaign by not rocking the boat further. Riley has recently attempted suicide and had a recovery stint in a psychiatric hospital. Riley’s anxiety  and panic attacks are still a constant, but medication and therapy are helping with that. Riley hopes to start over at the new school, but is instantly called “it” or “tranny” and other slurs. “Is that a girl, or a guy?” kids whisper in the hall. It would appear that judgmental teenagers looking to figure out how they should categorize a person are all over the place. Go figure.

 

Riley makes two good friends, Solo (Jason Solomona) and Bec (self-named because of her prominent nose, “bec” being French for “beak”), though their friendships start out tenuously. Riley starts an anonymous blog as a way to connect with “people like me,” a suggestion from Riley’s therapist. The blog quickly gains traffic, especially after one of Riley’s replies to a reader goes viral when something unexpected happens. Riley is scared that someone will discover the blog and out Riley, but the community found there is too good to turn away from. Of course, you can probably see where this is going, right? Riley’s dad is a high-profile congressman. Riley is already being bullied at school. Riley isn’t out to Riley’s parents yet. Expect things to fall apart, especially when it appears that Riley has a stalker on the blog who may know Riley’s true identity.

 

I really liked this book for a lot of reasons. Riley spends a lot of time talking/thinking about being gender fluid. Riley talks about feeling neutral, or feeling more “boy” or “girl” on certain days, or “both” or “neither.” Riley talks about the body dysphoria and the various ways it makes Riley feel when Riley shifts between identities. There is a lot going on here about gender, identity, and assumptions, not just with Riley but with some secondary characters in the book, both at the support group Riley attends and at school. Solo and Bec are great characters—particularly Solo (who refers to himself as “the three-hundred-pound brown kid with the furry Chewbacca backpack”). He’s an absolutely fantastic character. Part of the football team, Solo, who initially really seemed to connect with Riley, falls to the pressure of his jerk peers. He doesn’t make fun of Riley or hurl slurs, but he distances himself from Riley and doesn’t stand up to his peers right away. It doesn’t take long for him to ditch that attitude, though, and be a real friend to Riley. As far as enemies go, the biggest one is Jim Vickers, the football-playing a-hole who goes out of his way to bully and threaten Riley. Things go from bad to worse (to really, really a lot worse) with him.

 

Riley’s anxiety and panic attacks are also described in great detail. We see Riley getting help through therapy, medication (complete with adjusting doses as things change and having backup medication for the particularly bad moments), and learning techniques to try to stave off anxiety—things like deep breathing, visualization, and more. We see how horrible the panic attacks can be. Riley is open about them and their affects. Mental health issues are also addressed with the character of Bec’s mom, who is deeply depressed after a tragic incident in their family.

 

Though the novel is about a lot of very serious things, Riley’s wry humor and easy banter with Bec and Solo help lighten the tone. Though Riley struggles with coming to terms with this identity and sharing it with others, Riley has a lot of support. Riley has compassionate friends, a caring online community, people in the support group who can relate, and loving (if sometimes judgmental and not understanding) parents.

 

The novel starts with a blog post. “The first thing you’re going to want to know about me is: Am I a boy, or am I a girl.” Of course, since Riley is gender fluid, we know those labels don’t apply or only sometimes apply. Garvin manages to successfully avoid all pronouns for Riley or any other indications of what gender Riley was assigned at birth, helping drive home points about identity. An author’s note discusses where the idea for this book came from as well as offers resources on gender identity, anxiety, and depression. I have many pages of notes on this book and feel like this is a really rambling review, but there was just so much going on in this book. Here’s the takeaway from this review: THIS GREAT BOOK WITH A GENDER FLUID MAIN CHARACTER EXISTS. IT’S GREAT. THE WRITING IS GREAT. LOTS OF STUFF HAPPENS. THERE IS A LOT TO THINK ABOUT. GO GET IT!

Riley’s story is an important one and one we haven’t seen much of yet in YA. I hope The Symptoms of Being Human finds it way to the shelves of every library that serves teenagers. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062382863

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 02/02/2016

 

Book Review: Underwater by Marisa Reichardt

Publisher’s description:

underwaterMorgan didn’t mean to do anything wrong that day. Actually, she meant to do something right. But her kind act inadvertently played a role in a deadly tragedy. In order to move on, Morgan must learn to forgive-first someone who did something that might be unforgivable, and then, herself. But Morgan can’t move on. She can’t even move beyond the front door of the apartment she shares with her mother and little brother. Morgan feels like she’s underwater, unable to surface. Unable to see her friends. Unable to go to school. When it seems Morgan can’t hold her breath any longer, a new boy moves in next door. Evan reminds her of the salty ocean air and the rush she used to get from swimming. He might be just what she needs to help her reconnect with the world outside. Underwater is a powerful, hopeful debut novel about redemption, recovery, and finding the strength it takes to face your past and move on.

 

Amanda’s thoughts:

Oof. What an intense read. Morgan has been home, isolated, for months, ever since the shooting at her high school. Her debilitating panic attacks mean she can’t even conceive of being able to cross the threshold of her front door and go out into the world ever again. She does online school, takes comfort in routine and predictability, and is visited twice a week by a psychologist. When Evan Kokua moves in next door, he seems determined to be friends with her. Not only that, he doesn’t really seem fazed by the fact that she’s essentially a shut-in. At first she’s defensive and skittish around him, but their connection is immediate, and cleverness and honesty starts to give peeks of both who she is now and who she was Before.

 

The blurb above, from the publisher, could make it sound like Evan is some sort of savior. But that’s not the case at all. This doesn’t become a story about some boy swooping in and “fixing” a girl. They’re both broken. Maybe everyone is broken. Evan reminds her that she’s not the only one suffering, that everyone is just trying to survive–especially everyone who lived through the school shooting. Morgan’s road to recovery is long. She has intensive therapy. She has emergency pills. She has reminders to breathe, reminders that she’s not dying. She has the support of her mother. She has her own willpower. Her story is a testament to effectiveness of therapy. As the story goes on, we see her slowly (very slowly) change from the scared, isolated girl who can’t leave her house to something sort of like who she used to be. Flashbacks to her past show us how different she is now.

 

It’s through these looks back at her past that we learn more about her father, a now-homeless vet with an alcohol problem. After 5 tours in Afghanistan, he’s not the person he used to be. Morgan, her mom, and little brother rarely hear from him. He’s not getting the help he needs for his PTSD and Morgan is terrified that she might become like him. She doesn’t want to always be looking over her shoulder. She doesn’t want to retreat from her family and from life. And she doesn’t want to feel like a burden.

 

The issues addressed here are LARGE ones. Morgan struggles HARD. But there is a gentle undertone of hope and resilience throughout the story. Morgan’s panic attacks are terrible. What she went through is terrible. What she’s seen her father go through is terrible. The secret she’s hanging onto is making her feel even more terrible. But she has help. She has support. I really loved what Reichardt does with Morgan and Evan’s relationship. He is there to be a friend when she needs one and to get her to start to open up, but he isn’t there to save her. He is kind and understanding, but he’s also frustrated and calls her out on her inability to see that others are hurting too. He never tries to diminish Morgan’s own pain, but he reminds her that she’s not alone. And she’s not.

 

This novel is a powerful look at grief, mental illness, trust, forgiveness, letting go, and moving on. This should make your TBR list because of its strong writing, its examination of PTSD and panic disorders, and its hopeful approach toward therapy and recovery. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780374368869

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Publication date: 01/12/2016

Book Review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

nessPublisher’s description:

A new YA novel from novelist Patrick Ness, author of the Carnegie Medal- and Kate Greenaway Medal-winning A Monster Calls and the critically acclaimed Chaos Walking trilogy, The Rest of Us Just Live Here is a bold and irreverent novel that powerfully reminds us that there are many different types of remarkable.

What if you aren’t the Chosen One? The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions.

 

Amanda’s thoughts:

2015 has really delivered some fantastic books. Add this one to my favorites list. I’m pretty much in love with this book, but I’ll try to not just gush on and on. TRY.

 

Here’s how this book is structured: Each chapter begins with a little summary, so we get:

Chapter the first, in which the Messenger of the Immortals arrives in a surprising shape, looking for a permanent Vessel; and after being chased by her through the woods, indie kid Finn meets his final fate.

 

But then the chapter goes on to talk about other stuff entirely–the things that are going on with the people who just live in the town, not the the kids referenced in the chapter setup. Tiny little bits from that storyline that carries through in the chapter descriptions show up in the main story, but from the view of Mikey and friends, who are mostly just witnessing whatever this Immortals business is from afar. It’s a brilliant setup.

 

It’s a month prior to graduation and Mel, Mikey, Henna, and Jared are spending their last few weeks all together before their post-high school lives split them up. Outside of the constant background threat of possible undead masses coming to destroy the town, the kids lead pretty normal lives. Mike is full of anxiety about his friends, his future, and his family. He suffers from OCD and can’t stop getting stuck in repetitive loops. Mel, who’s one year older than her brother Mike, is making up for the year of school she lost while battling anorexia. Henna, the object of Mike’s affection, is not super excited to be heading to a war-torn African country for the summer. And Jared? Well, he’s a little less normal. He’s three-quarters Jewish and one-quarter God. His mother was a half-Goddess. So what exactly is Jared a god of? Cats. Mikey starts to stress out more when Nathan moves to town five weeks before graduation. Henna seems interested in him, much to Mikey’s dismay, and he can’t help but think it’s super suspicious that Nathan’s arrival happens to coincide with a resurgence of supernatural activity.

 

There is a lot to love about this book. The structure is intriguing, the writing is smart and funny, and the characters are incredibly interesting and well-developed. I love how they interact with each other and care for each other. At one point, Mike’s OCD has made him wash his face until it’s raw. Jared dabs some moisturizer on it for him. In Mike’s narration, he says, “Yeah, I know most people would think it weird that two guy friends touch as much as we do, but when you choose your family, you get to choose how it is between you, too. This is how we work. I hope you get to choose your family and I hope it means as much to you as mine does to me.” These friends care deeply for one another (and explore just what exactly might be found in the depth of those feelings, with Mike noting very matter-of-factly that he and Jared have hooked up in the past–“And fine, he and I have messed around a few times growing up together, even though I like girls, even though I like Henna, because a horny teenage boy would do it with a tree trunk if it offered at the right moment….”). Their stories dovetail at times with the story of the indie kids waging war against a potential apocalypse (those poor indie kids, always battling the undead, ghosts, and vampires. At one point, Mike notes there are two more indie kids dead. Henna says, “This is worse than when they were all dying beautifully of cancer.” GOD I LOVE THIS BOOK), but they prove that daily teenage life is just as fraught and dramatic as the lives of The Chosen Ones.

 

Here’s what I want to talk about for the rest of the review: Mental health, therapy, and medication. Friends, I was cheering out loud while reading this. The characters have many frank discussions about these topics and I FINALLY felt like someone really did a great job showing the good that therapy and medication can do. An ongoing conversation many of us have been having is about the worrisome messages some books send regarding mental health and the stigma of diagnosis, treatment, and medication. (You can go back to my piece Mental Health Medications are Not Your Enemy for some more context.) As much as I want to quote every line related to these topics, I’ll just share a few. For background, Mikey has seen a therapist for his OCD and anxiety and been medicated in the past. He’s not currently seeing someone or being treated. Jared finds him endlessly washing his face. He says:

“There’s no shame in therapy, Mike… Or medicine. You shouldn’t have to go through this.”

 

When Mikey finally tells his mother (who is a self-absorbed politician) that he thinks he needs to see a psychiatrist again, that he needs to be medicated, she just says okay and helps him do that. For all of her other failings, she understands he needs help and makes sure he gets it.

 

Mike talks to his therapist about how awful the OCD is, how debilitating the anxiety feels, how he worries that if he can’t break himself out of a loop, the only way to end it will be to kill himself. He says, “I feel like I’m at the bottom of a well. I feel like I’m way down this deep, deep hole and I’m looking up and all there is is this little dot of light and I have to shout at the top of my lungs for anyone to hear me and even when I do, I say the wrong thing or they don’t really listen or they’re just humoring me.” His struggles are very much on the page and he wrestles with what to do to overcome them. His therapist says he’d like to start him back on medication. Mike makes a face.

“… Why are you making that face?”

“Medication.”
“Medication is a … failure?”

“The biggest one. Like I’m so broken, I need medical help.”

“Cancer patients don’t call chemotherapy a failure. Diabetics don’t call insulin a failure.”

His therapist goes on to ask why he feels he’s responsible for his anxiety. During their fantastic discussion, he says to Mike, “Medication will address the anxiety, not get rid of it, but reduce it to a manageable level, maybe even the same level as other people so that—and here’s the key thing—we can talk about it. Make it something you can live with. You still have work to do, but the medication lets you stay alive long enough to do that work.”

As a person with anxiety disorder, as a parent raising a kid in therapy and on medication for anxiety disorder, as someone deeply invested in wanting teenagers to understand that there is help for their depression, or anxiety, or whatever, I applaud these scenes. They never felt preachy or forced. Mikey is honest, Jared is compassionate, the therapist is effective and optimistic.

 

It’s impossible to capture the brilliance of this book in a review, but I’m hoping you’ll go out and pick it up and experience it for yourself. This is the kind of book you finish reading and want to reread again just to savor it. I can’t wait to start recommending this to teens at the library. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062403162

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 10/06/2015