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Book Review: Fever Year: The Killer Flu of 1918 by Don Brown

Publisher’s description

From the Sibert honor-winning creator behind The Unwanted and Drowned City comes a graphic novel of one of the darkest episodes in American history: the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918.

New Year’s Day, 1918. America has declared war on Germany and is gathering troops to fight. But there’s something coming that is deadlier than any war.

When people begin to fall ill, most Americans don’t suspect influenza. The flu is known to be dangerous to the very old, young, or frail. But the Spanish flu is exceptionally violent. Soon, thousands of people succumb. Then tens of thousands . . . hundreds of thousands and more. Graves can’t be dug quickly enough.

What made the influenza of 1918 so exceptionally deadly—and what can modern science help us understand about this tragic episode in history? With a journalist’s discerning eye for facts and an artist’s instinct for true emotion, Sibert Honor recipient Don Brown sets out to answer these questions and more in Fever Year.

Amanda’s thoughts

Don Brown’s graphic nonfiction books are always an auto-read for me. Usually, I find them incredibly moving and deeply interesting. I’m bummed to say that this one was just kind of meh for me, though a meh Don Brown book is still a pretty good book. For such a dramatic event, the storytelling was kind of dry, and I’m hoping some of the repetition and clunky sentences will be cleaned up by the final copy.

Graphic nonfiction is a great way to present information to readers who may struggle to maintain interest in this material presented in other formats. I will say that the story of the 1918 pandemic is a riveting and horrifying one. I read a fantastic book on it, Very, Very, Very Dreadful: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918 by Albert Marrin, last winter when my school was in the throes of an influenza outbreak. Everything I learned then about the flu made our 20% absence rate and my two weeks in bed seem like nothing. Readers of Brown’s book will probably find the statistics staggering—1 out of every 3 people on the planet were infected by this 1918 outbreak, 50 million died worldwide. The disease was not yet well understood during this pandemic. Vaccines were developed quickly but proved ineffective. Transmission seemed nonsensical and so rapid that it seemed impossible to contain. There was a shortage of doctors, nurses, gravediggers, and coffins. Entire cities essentially shut down. This may not be Brown’s strongest book, but it is a concise way to present information about an event that seems almost unfathomable. My ARC only had black and white illustrations with a sample of the full-color art, which I imagine will add some liveliness to the unfortunately lackluster presentation of information.

Though a bit of a disappointment, I still think this is worthwhile to have in collections just for the fact that it makes history accessible to readers who may otherwise give it a pass and because it does a worthy job of educating readers’ on this awful pandemic.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780544837409
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 09/03/2019

Book Review: The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown

Publisher’s description

the unwantedIn the tradition of Don Brown’s critically acclaimed, full-color nonfiction graphic novels The Great American Dust Bowl and Sibert Honor winning Drowned CityThe Unwanted is an important, timely, and eye-opening exploration of the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis, exposing the harsh realities of living in, and trying to escape, a war zone. 

 

Starting in 2011, refugees flood out of war-torn Syria in Exodus-like proportions. The surprising flood of victims overwhelms neighboring countries, and chaos follows. Resentment in host nations heightens as disruption and the cost of aid grows. By 2017, many want to turn their backs on the victims. The refugees are the unwanted.

 

Don Brown depicts moments of both heartbreaking horror and hope in the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis. Shining a light on the stories of the survivors, The Unwanted is a testament to the courage and resilience of the refugees and a call to action for all those who read.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I’m a huge fan of all of Don Brown’s graphic nonfiction. If you are unfamiliar with them, I hope you will check into them and add them to your collections, particularly his stunningly moving book on Hurricane Katrina, Drowned City. This slim volume packs a real punch, filled with information and first-person accounts of Syria’s refugee crisis.

 

Brown provides a very brief overview of the Arab Spring, starting this story with teenage boys writing graffiti (“Down with the regime”) on a wall in Dara’a, in southern Syria, then the arrest and torture of those boys, which sparks a protest for their freedom. Of course, this is just one of many inciting incidents, as the anger is far deeper and more widespread, with Syrians unhappy with Assad’s rule and the corrupt government. The government retaliates against the protesters, with the growth of the protest and violence leading to civil war. Syrians flee to Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, living in tent cities, with friends and family, or in communities in the hills. Violence intensifies when jihadists, including ISIS, join the fight. Brown followers various refugees’ journeys as they escape any way they can. We see people fleeing on foot, on boats, with smugglers, some of them successfully escaping, but many thousands and thousands dying in the process.

 

Brown gives readers a closer look at life both inside and outside of refugee camps. He also shares statistics that help inform the stories he is telling, such as numbers of registered refugees, applications for asylum, and numbers of the dead and missing. He goes on to show the tolls on the countries accepting refugees and the lengths many countries went to to keep refugees out. As sympathies wane, many begin to fear and hate the influx of refugees, whom they see as a threat and drain on resources. As more borders close, more and more people find themselves stranded. One refugees asks the heartbreaking question, “Who cares about us?” Brown takes readers back to Syria, looking at the continued war there, with the eventual exodus of so many who had hoped to be able to wait out the violence and unrest. Brown ends with a family making it to California and speaking about the future. He then includes extensive back matter explaining why he focused this story so closely on the refugee experience without going into the complicated roles that religion, politics, and cultured played in the story. Included are journal summaries from his May 2017 visit to a refugee camp in Greece, lengthy source notes, and a bibliography.

 

It was no surprise to me that Brown so adeptly captures the emotions and weight of this experience. Though, as noted, this book is slight, it is a thorough and affecting look at the Syrian refugee crisis, particularly for younger readers who may just be looking for a quick and basic understanding of what has been going on. The full-color illustrations are dynamic and powerful, whether showing crowded boats, near-empty deserts, or the anguish on the refugees’ faces. This somber, poignant, and deeply sympathetic look at Syrian refugees is as moving as it is informative. A solid addition for all collections. 

 

 

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher
ISBN-13: 9781328810151
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 09/18/2018

Review from This Month’s School Library Journal: Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans by Don Brown

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, which originally appeared in the August 2015 issue of School Library Journal.

 

drowned cityBROWN, Don. Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans. illus. by Don Brown. 96p. bibliog. ebook available. notes. HMH. Aug. 2015. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780544157774.
Gr 7 Up–A murky watercolor storm spreads across pages, darkening and becoming more ominous as it builds in Brown’s deeply affecting look at Hurricane Katrina. Dynamic sketches capture shocking scenes, such as residents fleeing down claustrophobic highways as the 400-mile-wide storm looms in a nearly completely dark spread. Brown depicts broken levees, flooded homes, and inhabitants scrabbling to not drown in their attics. A stunningly powerful spread shows water everywhere and two lone people trapped on a roof. The images demonstrate the utter devastation and despair while the at times spare text powerfully reveals the voices of the victims. The many failures of President Bush, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Mayor Ray Nagin, and others are repeatedly noted, as is the heroism of various organizations and ordinary people. Brown walks readers through the ghastly conditions at the Superdome, the horrors of hospitals with no electricity, and the nightmarish reality of dead bodies everywhere. The story becomes grimmer at every turn: ineffectual police and rescue efforts, looting, the lack of housing for rescued victims, and 5,000 missing children. The muted watercolors effectively capture the squalid and treacherous conditions of every inch of New Orleans. The final pages show the rebuilding efforts but note the lasting effects of vastly decreased populations.

VERDICT This astonishingly powerful look at one of America’s worst disasters is a masterful blend of story and art and a required purchase for all libraries.–Amanda MacGregor, Great River Regional Library, St. Cloud, MN

 

#FSYALIT Girls Like Me Don’t: Thoughts on Things I Can’t Forget by Miranda Kenneally, a guest post by Katelyn Browne

I moved a lot growing up. “A different school every other grade” kind of a lot. It’s usually the first thing I tell people when I’m trying to explain why I am the way I am, or why I can’t just tell you where I’m from.

That’s one thing that makes me very different from Kate Kelly, the narrator of Miranda Kenneally’s Things I Can’t Forget. Kate has lived in Tennessee her whole life, in a close-knit Christian community. (Because this is the third book in a loosely connected series, Kenneally is able to make the community feel smotheringly small—everywhere we turn, there’s a character or a plot point from a past or future Hundred Oaks book.) She doesn’t know anyone who’s not Christian. Kate herself is deeply, devoutly, intensely Christian.

And that’s where we’re the same, Kate and I. (Kate and Kate—we share a name, too.) Because right after I’ve explained that I’m not from anywhere, my next go-to explanation is “Oh, and I was intensely religious as a teen.”

“Learning is never a bad thing. And neither is changing your mind about things…It’s always good to reevaluate. To think and consider all sides.”
Miranda Kenneally, Things I Can’t Forget

Intense is the only right word for it. During middle school and high school, I was always at church: Sunday school, Sunday services, church band practice, Bible study, youth group, leadership training. I went to all the extra holy days, fasted for 40 Hour Famine, served a silent shift in the dark for an Easter prayer vigil. I ran my own peer Bible study for a year and made all my friends come and listen to canned presentations about abortion and smoking and homosexuality. I went on retreats, swimming trips, and mall scavenger hunts.  And I went to church camp.

My church camp didn’t look like the one where Kate spends her summers. Cumberland Creek is a true summer camp, where children come and stay in cabins and our teen heroes serve as their counselors. My youth group did the conference-style camps, where we would spend a week on a college campus somewhere, getting saved and playing Ultimate Frisbee. In alternate years, we went on mission trips instead. But the wild mishmash of emotional, hormonal teen summers and the distinctive structures of camp that dominate this book feel so familiar to me.

When I offered to write a post for #FSYALit, I mentioned off-hand that this was the only YA book I’ve ever read that really felt like the religion I’d lived. At the time, I thought it was mostly because of the camp aspect, because of those summer evenings feeling close-but-not-close-enough to Jesus while sitting close-but-not-too-close to your friends. (I was always intellectually engaged with religion, but camp was where I prayed the sobbing, convulsing, born-again prayers that mark evangelical youth.)

“Free will comes with sacrifice. And sometimes with heartache.”
Miranda Kenneally, Things I Can’t Forget

Upon reread, I realized that this book had stuck to my bones because of the pervasive sense of shame. There’s a special breed of shame, mixed with guilt, rolled up with judgment and righteousness that haunted me as a teenager—and that haunts me still—that I’d never seen anyone talk about in quite the right way.

Those feelings are stamped all over this book. In Kate’s world, religious truth and cultural standards are very closely intertwined. The first sentence of the book is “Girls like me do not buy pregnancy tests,” and it quickly becomes clear that Kate knows a lot of things that girls like her—like us—don’t do. She’s dismayed when she learns of Christian peers who belong to fraternities and sororities; who are gay; who go to parties; who have sex. Later on, she encapsulates what the teen experience looked like for those of us who were fully in the thrall of self-righteousness mixed with total fear: “I missed out on a lot because I was scared other kids would be drinking or doing drugs or having sex, and I didn’t want to be around that. And because no boys ever invited me.”

Before the book begins, Kate has helped her best friend, Emily, get an abortion. Now, in hindsight, she’s sure that she’s sinned in an almost unforgivable way, and a significant amount of the text is devoted to constantly wondering about her standing with God.

Kate’s shame deepens as she develops romantic—and sexual—feelings for her co-counselor and old friend Matt. She has the usual modesty culture guilt about feeling any kind of want and desire. (Julie Stivers read a draft of this post for me and wondered where the moral line was, in dating relationships, when I was a teen. I went to a church that was okay with dating other like-minded Protestants as long as you were just kissing—but even then, it felt like you could cross a line as soon as you started to like it too much.) Kate’s uncertainty about enjoying her make-out sessions with Matt is summed up in a such a succinct, pointed, perfect way: “I felt so good inside it felt wrong.”

The shadow of Emily’s abortion complicates these shameful feelings. Kate certainly judges Emily for getting an abortion, and she hates herself for helping her. But even more than that, Kate judges Emily because she had sex with her boyfriend, Jacob, in flagrant defiance of everything they knew to be morally correct. Kate takes assurance from the knowledge that she wasn’t at all complicit in that sin, and that she would never fall the way Emily has. Her belief in her own moral superiority (and her disdain and pity for Emily) nearly destroys their friendship in a way that demonstrates the utter failure of “love the sinner, hate the sin.”

“I have a billion what-ifs and no way forward.”
Miranda Kenneally, Things I Can’t Forget

As an adult, as a secular person, as a reader, I want to sit Kate down and say, look. You did the best thing; you loved your friend; you helped her when she was afraid. Your God should love that. You don’t need to be forgiven, and you need to stop punishing Emily.

But I know that it’s not that easy. And if you work with evangelical teens, or other teens whose worlds are defined by rules, by right and wrong and very few shades of grey, I hope you know that, too. Like Kate, I said and thought and did immensely hurtful things to my friends and acquaintances in the name of the truth. Sometimes, I got a chance to make amends; other times, I didn’t.

Kate ends the book with an intact, but changed, relationship with God and with her own ideas about faith. A concerned friend says, “I feel like you’re getting to know yourself better, and that’s a good thing.”

Because I spent so much of my adolescence squashing parts of myself that were sinful or worldly or otherwise not of God, that’s something I’m still working on. I’ve gotten to know myself better every time I’ve read Things I Can’t Forget, and I hope some evangelical teens will find themselves in it, too.

I know that this book would have made me deeply uncomfortable as a teen—I learned about God (and chaste romance between married people) from church-library books from Christian publishers. When I met characters who had had abortions, or who were gay, or who gave in to their carnal desires, they were always in secular books and they were never evangelical.

Kenneally’s book is a bit of each; it very much exists in the tradition of secular YA fiction, and it comes from a secular publisher. It’s also a book that takes teenage faith very seriously and recognizes that Kate’s faith in God, even when shaky, is central to her life.

Depending on your community, it could make for a difficult handsell. But I think it’s such an important book for evangelical teens who also like romance stories, as well as for teens who live in places where evangelical morality seems distant and cartoonish. As in many Christian romances, Kate’s relationship with a boy is compared and contrasted with her relationship with God—but here, both relationships and the questions they evoke are treated as valid. Near the end of the book, Kate is still trying to decide what to do about Matt. She wonders, “Is it healthy to have a love like that anyway? A love where you throw aside all caution and dive right in?”

It’s an important question, particularly if you’re coming into adulthood and trying on relationships. And I don’t think it’s a question that only pertains to boyfriends.

Meet Our Guest Blogger

Katelyn Browne (or @brownekr, to the Twitter world) works as a school librarian in Washington, DC. These days, she hangs out with Quakers, but she still knows all the words to an awful lot of Christian rock songs.

Publisher’s Book Description:

Kate has always been the good girl. Too good, according to some people at school—although they have no idea the guilty secret she carries. But this summer, everything is different…

This summer she’s a counselor at Cumberland Creek summer camp, and she wants to put the past behind her. This summer Matt is back as a counselor too. He’s the first guy she ever kissed, and he’s gone from a geeky songwriter who loved The Hardy Boys to a buff lifeguard who loves to flirt – with her.

Kate used to think the world was black and white, right and wrong. Turns out, life isn’t that easy.

Published by Sourcefire Books in 2013

For more discussions of Faith and Spirituality in YA Lit, check out our Hub

Where Stories Come From, a guest post by Jaye Robin Brown

It’s hard for me to believe that my fourth novel, THE KEY TO YOU AND ME, is releasing on April 20th. It seems like only a few weeks ago I was waking up before the dawn to get in an hour or so of writing before heading off to my job as a teacher, not yet agented and publishing a thing only in my daydreams. Those days are gone and now I write full-time but some things are unchanged. I still need to find the stories within me to put on the page.

This got me thinking about where these stories come from. How does an idea that starts as some shadowy notion become a fully-fledged novel? For me, each book’s inspiration and start has been a little different. But what they all have in common is a key element of internal exploration or some issue I’ve grappled with in my life.

In my first novel, NO PLACE TO FALL, I was exploring place and home. It was not only a look at the beauty and pitfalls of life in a small rural town, but also a love song to Appalachia. Though the South, in general, tends to get bad press, there are hierarchies within the South and Southern Appalachia gets, perhaps, the worst press of all. And though I didn’t grow up here, it became my chosen home. It’s a place where family ties go deep, secrets are held close, but people are loved right where they are. It’s also a place steeped in music. I wanted to share this in a novel that explores all of those things along with the beauty of the land.

My second book, GEORGIA PEACHES AND OTHER FORBIDDEN FRUIT, is an exploration of queerness and faith. As someone who is both queer and Southern, it was so important for me to write Jo and her journey. Though the book is a sweet romance, it’s also a look at the ways in which religion and queerness can exist hand-in-hand when people allow it.

At Pride in Boston in 2019 sporting sticker swag from my books

One reason why it took me into my 20s to come out was this Southern upbringing. One of the first questions people often ask is “where do you attend church?” And as a gay person, there’s always this underlying drumbeat of feeling somehow wrong or that you’re going to be struck down because of who you love. This book was the way I dealt with this for myself, along with being, I hope, a ray of light for teens who desire to have faith and an honest existence.

THE MEANING OF BIRDS, my third novel, is my most personal novel of the lot. It delves into loss, grief, and how we heal. In 2015, I lost my partner to cancer. I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to write again. But when I did, what came out was grief. But this story contained so much more, as stories often do. There’s a nod to my grandmother who loved watching birds, the lake house setting was inspired by a yearly retreat I do with several writer friends, and there are cameos of artist friends in some of the later scenes. Mostly though, this book is about the healing power of art and creativity. For years, as an art teacher, I watched the transformative nature of creation. And it turns out that this novel, heavy with my own emotional relationship to grief, provided a way for me to crawl forward and recapture my ability to weave words onto the page.

On my friend’s horse, Fonty

And now here we are, my fourth book, THE KEY TO YOU AND ME. After writing about religion and grief, I needed to write something lighter in tone. This book is about the joy of falling for someone and overcoming obstacles either put in our path or self-created. Though the main premise is the burgeoning romance between main characters—local girl, Kat, and visiting equestrian, Piper—I still found deeper issues I wanted to explore. With Piper, it’s unfounded fear. Though she’s confident riding horses, she’s been terrified to learn how to drive a vehicle. Having gone through my own great fear (mine did have to do with horses) I knew it was something I wanted to explore in fiction. I think there are these moments for all of us where something is overwhelming even if it’s something the rest of the world does easily. For Piper, it’s driving, and I loved being able to navigate her character through this.

With Kat, I wanted to delve into what it means to come out as queer in your own time frame. Kat knows she’s not straight. But she’s unsure how to classify her sexuality. Though plenty of people around her have questioned her, she’s still privately exploring and not ready to label herself. It’s something I’ve thought about a lot, how once you’ve put on a certain label, people want to hold you to that. Or they won’t stop until you’ve chosen a label. And as a teenager, there needs to be room to explore and shift and try things on until you find the thing that suits you. And it’s really no one’s right but your own to name it.

But now I should come clean, none of these themes start out in an intentional way. More often, I hear a voice, or something on the news, or imagine a setting that sets the creative wheels in motion. But those trigger points are more like keys for unlocking the psyche. And as I write, themes develop for each book. I often don’t even know what they are until I get into my editorial draft and have another pair of eyes on the work. Then it’s like the proverbial light bulb going off and, “of course that’s what it’s about.”

With each novel, it becomes easier for me to point to the places where they intersect with my lived experience and exploratory thoughts and say “A-ha, so that’s where this story came from.”

Meet the author

Jaye Robin Brown, or JRo to her friends, has been many things in her life–jeweler, mediator, high school art teacher–but is now living the full-time writer life. She lives with her wife, dogs, cats, and horses in a sweet house in the NC woods where she hopes to live happily ever after. She is the author of NO PLACE TO FALL, WILL’S STORY, GEORGIA PEACHES AND OTHER FORBIDDEN FRUIT, THE MEANING OF BIRDS, and the forthcoming THE KEY TO YOU AND ME.

Her debut young adult novel, NO PLACE TO FALL, came out in the fall of 2014 from Harper Teen. It’s a love song to small town girls and mountain music. In April 2016, a companion novella, WILL’S STORY: A NO PLACE TO FALL NOVELLA, released from Epic Reads Impulse, a digital only imprint. GEORGIA PEACHES AND OTHER FORBIDDEN FRUIT, released August 30, 2016, also from Harper Teen, and is the story of Jo Gordon, the out lesbian daughter of a moderate evangelical minister. It’s a love story and a look at the sometimes conundrum of having faith and being queer. It was named to the ALA Rainbow List for 2017 as well as being a Kirkus Best Teen Book of 2017.  THE MEANING OF BIRDS, April 2019, is a story about loss, love, and the healing power of art. It was named a Lambda Literary Award Finalist in the Children’s/Young Adult Category. THE KEY TO YOU AND ME, releasing April 2021, is a dual POV romance between one girl chasing her dream while escaping a broken heart, and another girl trying to figure out her heart’s desire and what happens when they collide.

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/jayerobinbrown/

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/jayerobinbrown

Website – www.jayerobinbrown.com

Newsletter – https://landing.mailerlite.com/webforms/landing/o9e0q5

About The Key to You and Me

A sweet and funny ownvoices LGBTQ+ romance perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli and Julie Murphy, from the critically acclaimed author of Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit!

Piper Kitts is spending the summer living with her grandmother, training at the barn of a former Olympic horseback rider, and trying to get over her ex-girlfriend. Much to Piper’s dismay, her grandmother is making her face her fear of driving by taking lessons from a girl in town.

Kat Pearson has always suspected that she likes girls but fears her North Carolina town is too small to color outside the lines. But when Piper’s grandmother hires Kat to give her driving lessons, everything changes.

Piper’s not sure if she’s ready to let go of her ex. Kat’s navigating uncharted territory with her new crush. With the summer running out, will they be able to unlock a future together?

ISBN-13: 9780062824585
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 04/20/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Sunday Reflections: Things I Don’t Know If I Can Forgive You For, a Lament for a Senior Year in 2020/2021

TRIGGER WARNING FOR DISCUSSIONS OF SUICIDE AND SEXUAL VIOLENCE

It was Christmas Even when we got the call. After months of being diligent, my stepmom went to bed sick. All in all, 10 members of our family ended up with Covid. Two of them are fighting for their lives. It’s day 22 of sitting with the phone in hand waiting to see if my father will survive.

The Teen is in her room and I can hear her crying. It’s her senior year and this is the thing we have feared the most. There probably won’t be a graduation, but if there is, will her beloved grandfather be alive to attend? We no longer know. As his first grandchild gets ready to graduate high school, he struggles to survive a disease that so many people are still saying aren’t real, or isn’t really that bad. Family members that have survived describe as the most pain, the most exhausted, the most fear they have ever experienced.

The other night, they tried to take my Dad to the emergency room again but there is no room. As we have just celebrated Christmas I keep thinking about the statement: there is no room at the inn. But this time, the inn is a hospital and the condition is Covid-19 and one person is dying every 6 minutes. There is no room at the hospital so they send my Dad home with an oxygen machine and instructions of what to watch for and when to come back.

*********************

My teen’s senior year has been one of constant fear and uncertainty. We’re in the midst of a deadly global pandemic. She went and voted for the first time in her life and now everyone is saying that the votes were a lie without any evidence. She is having panic attacks and there are questions. I have to tell her that no, it’s not always like this. It has never been like this. Not in my lifetime. Though it has never been perfect, it has never been like this.

She is sitting in class when the insurrection starts. She goes to a hybrid school and she is in class when I get the text from a friend: Holy Shit. That’s all it says, but I know what it means. I know that what I feared may happen has happened. Things 2 is at home, with me. So I jump in the car and drive to the high school and sign my teenager out. On the line that says reason I simply write: violent insurrection.

We sit at home and we pray. She goes to school and there have already been issues with MAGA classmates and the next day, she is afraid. For the first time, she is genuinely afraid for her life from her fellow students, her neighbors. We talk about what that means, what is must be like daily for her LGBTQIA+ friends, for her Black friends, for her Jewish and Muslim friends.

*********************

On the day of the inauguration, she could not watch. She wanted to celebrate the first woman being sworn in as Vice President, wanted to watch and to cheer. But she was too full of fear that Kamala Harris would not survive the day after the events of January 6th. I watched and when she was safely sworn in, I cheered and texted her to say: She’s Vice President! Yet another milestone was stolen from her.

*********************

My teenage daughter is 18 years old and this is what her life has looked like.

She was born after 9/11, so she has never known a life without America being involved in 3 or more wars.

When she was six, the economy tanked. We lost our home and had to move from her home state to get back on our feet.

A childhood lost in a flood

Before we moved, however, our town flooded and she and her two-year old sister were rushed out of the home through freezing, raging waters that came up to my waist by complete strangers. The town has flooded a couple of more times since then because of climate change.

A classmate was beaten to death by a parent, at least four of died by suicide in her high school career.

The first time she was sexually harassed, she was in the 7th grade. No fewer than 4 of her friends have been raped, that we know of.

Economic anxiety, an opioid epidemic, school violence, war, poverty, and more. These have been the hallmarks of her life to date.

And then there was the global pandemic

And then there were political lies that led to a deadly insurrection.

Her senior year there has been no Homecoming, no parties, no date night with friends. There will probably be no prom. But there is lies, destruction, and death.

*********************

I am angry every day. I am scared every day. I see how this is effecting my children, and I’m angry. We decided to donate all of our Christmas money to foodbanks this year. That turned out to be a really good idea because after that Christmas Eve phone call, no one felt like celebrating.

I honestly don’t know what to tell my children. How to answer their questions. I don’t know why people are protesting the mask mandate while they see sickness and death all around. I don’t know why people seem so willing to give up the very democracy that we always held so dear. I don’t know why people aren’t more upset about an assassination attempt on the Vice President of the United States. I don’t know why people are believing conspiracy theories despite evidence that proves that the pandemic is real or a lack of evidence that would prove election fraud happened.

I don’t know why any of this is happening.

I don’t know why nobody wants to help the starving children.

I don’t know why some people are angry when they hear Black Lives Matter.

I don’t know why people care who someone else loves.

I don’t know why the people who told them that Jesus loves everyone and to follow the Golden Rule are now spreading lies, unwilling to do the simple act of wearing a mask to protect others, or seem fine with racism and anti-semitism.

Yes, we have always known that these things exist, but we have been shocked by the depth of it and broken hearted by the people we loved who have proven to be something different than we thought.

*********************

The Teen has finally gotten accepted into the college program of her dreams. She will go to college in another state on a campus she has never even seen. I feel like my fear about this is something beyond the normal fear that one experiences in this situation. I have no idea what the world will even look like 6 months from now. Will she be politically safe? Will she be safe from a deadly virus? Will she have any rights?

I don’t recognize the world right now. And I know that I am speaking from a place of white privilege. I know that America has never been perfect, has always been racist, and sexist, and classist. But this feels different. Now we have people in elected positions who actively want to overthrow our democracy, not defend it, and I imagine they were always there as well, but now they aren’t even trying to hide it. And that might be the most terrifying part of all of this.

When the evil feels like it is safe to come out of the shadows and be out in the open, things are so much worse than we ever could have imagined. And I have read a lot of dystopian YA, so I had a pretty good imagination.

So today, I will sit once again with my phone in my hand. I will pray for my Dad, I will pray for my country, and I will pray for my daughter.

I don’t know how I’m going to forgive you, America, for what you have done and are doing to our children. Not just mine, but all of them. The hungry ones. The scared ones. The hurting ones. The ones who have Black or brown skin or come from a religion that isn’t Christian. The ones who are LGBTQIA+. The ones who have been sick or have loved ones to this disease. The girls on my 12-year-olds soccer team who can’t come back because they had Covid and now have permanent heart damage. The ones whose parents taught them lies and planted the seed of hate and conspiracy in their hearts and now they will struggle to live in a reality that is different than the truth.

We have failed. We have harmed. Maybe we don’t even deserve forgiveness.

MakerSpace: Get Teens Involved Making Cards by Kate-Lynn Brown

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If you’re looking for a quick, easy, and relatively cheap way to give back this holiday season–and also plan a program with your teens–I’d suggest making holiday cards to donate! This time of year gives everyone the jitters, and channeling that extra excitement and energy into creativity is a great way to unwind.

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I ran a drop-in card program this December where I asked the teens to make and decorate holiday cards. What’s great about this program is that it works this time of year, but it can be done any time! Most organizations will accept year-round cards for birthdays, other holidays, or just to say hello and share messages of encouragement.

Some general tips: Most organizations want you to send multiple cards, pictures, and letters in one large envelope. Individually wrapping each card creates a hassle for screeners and distributors. In general, the consensus for organizations sending to sick people is to avoid “Get well soon.” There is no way to know if the person receiving your card is terminal, so they might not be able to get well soon. My director had only one request about this project: NO GLITTER. Save your library floor and the organization you’re sending to, and leave the glitter and confetti out. This would also be a great program to run library-wide. Although I’m just doing this with my teens, adult and children’s services could easily get involved to send an even bigger collection of cards!

Cards for Hospitalized Kids

www.cardsforhosptializedkids.com/about-the-founder.html

Cards for Hospitalized Kids is a great option if you want to make cards now that can reach their destination by the holidays. CFHK sends cards to hospitals all around the country,  The group, started by Jen Rubio and run out of Chicago, asks for all cards to be sent two weeks before the holiday, but can accept them up until 7 days before. If you want to get cards to hospitals before the end of Hanukkah, you have until December 14th to send them. Be sure to include Rubio started the group after 20+ hospital stays for connective tissue and bone disease; so she’s experienced firsthand how a handmade card can make someone’s day! This is the organization my teens made cards for during our drop-in.

Send to:

Cards for Hospitalized Kids

7290 W. Devon Ave

Chicago, IL 60631

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Operation Gratitude

www.operationgratitude.com

Operation Gratitude sends cards and care packages to deployed troops, veterans, new recruits, and first responders. The site’s “Guide to Letter Writing” helps contributors decide what to say, from the generic salutation to the closing remarks. Children are asked to use their first name only and provide an adult’s contact information if they’d like to receive a response.

Send to:

Operation Gratitude

ATTN: Letter Writing Program

21100 Lassen Street

Chatsworth, CA 91311-4278

 

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Card Care Connection

cardcareconnection.com/news.aspx

This nonprofit organization is perfect for year-round donations. Card Care Connection accepts cards all year and asks for them to blank on the inside. Sentiments such as, “you’re special,” “hello!” are encouraged, but the group asks that contributors refrain from religious messages, “get well soon,” or cards for specific holidays. Card Care Connection asks the contributors use cardstock and other high-quality materials, so this organization is best for older teens and adult programs.

Send to:

Card Care Connection

112 Saddlehorn Court

Fenton, MO 63026

 

holidaycards5Caitlin’s Smiles

https://twitter.com/caitlinssmiles

Caitlin’s Smiles mission is a great one: “Giving sick children laughs, hopes, and smiles.” Caitlin Hornung was only four years old when she was diagnosed with cancer, and she passed away before her eighth birthday. This organization continues Caitlyn’s love of art and making people happy by providing creative care packages to kids undergoing long treatments in hospitals. Each “Bag of Smile” is sent with a homemade card. The group asks for cards to not contain any religious messages, and do not say get well soon. Since most of the patients are terminal, this isn’t the best sentiment to send. Include fun drawings, silly jokes, and bright colors!

Send to:

Caitlin’s Smiles

3303 N. 6th Street

Harrisburg, PA 17110

 

holidaycards6 Cardz for Kidz

https://twitter.com/cardzforkidz

 

Each hospital that partners with Cardz for Kidz promises to deliver each card room to room, which makes the kids even more excited about your message to them! Contributors are encouraged to include popular characters, like the ninja turtles and minions, although generic animals and jokes are great too! The organization also needs cards in Spanish, French, Creole, and Vietnamese. The group asks for cards to be signed with a first name, which makes the experience more personal for the child receiving.

Send to:

Cardz for Kidz

323 East Wacker Drive #11

Chicago, IL 60601

The Importance of School Visits, by Kate-Lynn Brown

As a teen librarian, I’ve done three school visits for two different libraries. The first was while I was still in college. I spoke to the sixth graders about volunteering for the Summer Reading Club during their lunch.

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A middle school cafeteria at lunchtime. I was thrown to the wolves. Even the most seasoned veteran would be scared by the gossip, the hormones, the frenzied atmosphere created during the teens’ social hour. It was a moment that made me realize I was cut out to work with teenagers: yes, my palms were clammy. No, I was not afraid to stand in front of this group and convince them volunteering at the library would be the best part of their summer. I got on the microphone and scanned the tables for familiar faces. I caught a few and smiled. The speech I had rehearsed all week came out naturally. Students waited for me to finish (and were relatively attentive while I spoke), then swarmed me for fliers. I stopped by each section of tables to make sure they didn’t have any questions. I nailed it.

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My subsequent school visits have been in more official capacities: with a full-time teen librarian, I spend all day in a classroom or media lab performing book talks. We each pick three or four books to present to the teens, offering variety with at least one nonfiction title, one graphic novel, and one fiction book. To prep we read the books, pick passages to read aloud, and create and practice a presentation to get the teens interested in each selection. My coworkers who have been doing this for a while have impressive Google Doc archives of their go-to book talks.

The day is exhausting–and I don’t know how teachers run through a lesson multiple times in a day or week!  Bright and early, we run through our library spiel: Who has a library card? Here’s how you get one! Who comes to the library? Here’s why you should! We let the students pick the order we’ll talk about the books in, taking questions and initiating conversations about each title throughout the class period. The bell rings, and we start over again.

So why are school visits so important?

  1. We get out into the community! I have been thinking a lot about outreach lately, and it’s something that successful public libraries all seem to do and do well. That being said…
  2. The library is much more than its building! Someone said this to me at a graduate school event recently, and it resonated. You might know that the library is more than a building with books in it, but you should remind the members of the community you serve of this, too. So, as a teen librarian, going to the schools serves that purpose. I directly serve the teenage population, so they should see me in spaces important to them.
  3. We reach students who we might not have otherwise! Some kids might never come into the library–and if they do, might not approach the librarian and ask for a recommendation. This ensures we’re reaching a much wider audience and getting more teens excited about different things the library has to offer. If they recognize us, they might even feel more comfortable coming up to ask a question.
  4. We are given a captive audience. Teens hear about titles we have, events we’re running, and programs we’re starting. It’s one of the few times we’re guaranteed a captive audience! What we have to say isn’t lost in their social media feeds or irrelevant when compared to their after school chatter. Whether they doze off at their desks or hold on to every word we say, for that class period the teens are ours. Of course, in a classroom we’re not going to see every teen patron that visits the library; but over the course of a semester worth of visits we hope to reach a good percentage of them.
  5. We get so much out of it.  I see the teens in a new environment where they’re more comfortable. I’m going into their workspace instead of having them come into mine. I see kids get excited about reading who might not be big readers! That’s the point of book talks for me: how can I sell this book so even a reluctant reader might be drawn in enough to pick it up? What can I tell an avid reader to make him go for this title over any other other? It’s one of the challenges of this job that I love.
  6. We get to read outloud- and the teens get to listen! I love reading to them. One of my favorite parts of creating a book talk is picking out what passages to read aloud.Teens love being read to. Even the teachers love being read to! I’ve gotten to the end of a passage only to look up and see every eye in the room is on me, at full attention. While younger kids are read to all the time, it really doesn’t happen often for teens. I think being read to is a totally underappreciated art, and a great way for people to experience a story in a different way.

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One of the times I feel most important as a librarian is when I leave the physical space of the library and go out into my community.  As a teen librarian, going on school visits is a huge part of that. I love any chance to interact with my teens and try to create a meaningful experience for them, especially when a book or another resource we have is a part of that experience!

Meet Kate-Lynn Brown

katelynnbrown

Kate-Lynn is a teen services information assistant in New Jersey. She is currently a student in the Rutgers Master of Information program, which she will complete in May 2018. She loves reading thrillers and creative nonfiction. You can find her digital portfolio here and follow her on Twitter, @katelynnbrown95.

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Showcase and Giveaway

Beyond the people I work with and the people this blog has led me to get to know, by far the best aspect of blogging for TLT is the constant influx of books. All of the books I get end up going back out the door in some fashion—to teen readers I know, to classroom libraries of friends, or in giveaways. I can’t read/review every book I get, but it’s fun to be able to sift through boxes and see what grabs my attention, and to see what books will find loving new homes with the right reader.

 

Today I’m sharing with you a few titles from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers’ Fall 2016 and Winter 2017 list. All annotations are from the publisher. They have kindly offered to do a giveaway with us. They are offering 5 copies of Dreamland Burning to our readers. Enter via the Rafflecopter between now and September 26th. Winners will be notified via email. US entries only, please.

 

 

treesAnd the Trees Crept in by Dawn Kurtagich (ISBN-13: 9780316298704 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 09/06/2016)

A stunning, terrifying novel about a house the color of blood and the two sisters who are trapped there, by The Dead House author Dawn Kurtagich
When Silla and Nori arrive at their aunt’s home, it’s immediately clear that the “blood manor” is cursed. The creaking of the house and the stillness of the woods surrounding them would be enough of a sign, but there are secrets too–the questions that Silla can’t ignore: Who is the beautiful boy that’s appeared from the woods? Who is the man that her little sister sees, but no one else? And why does it seem that, ever since they arrived, the trees have been creeping closer?

Filled with just as many twists and turns as The Dead House, and with achingly beautiful, chilling language that delivers haunting scenes, AND THE TREES CREPT IN is the perfect follow-up novel for master horror writer Dawn Kurtagich.

 

 

cloudwishCloudwish by Fiona Wood (ISBN-13: 9780316242127 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 10/18/2016)

Award-winning author Fiona Wood delivers a thought-provoking story of self-discovery and first love-one that will resonate with anyone who has ever realized that the things that make you different are the things that make you…you.

For Vân Uoc, fantasies fall into two categories: nourishing or pointless. Daydreaming about attending her own art opening? Nourishing. Daydreaming about Billy Gardiner, star of the rowing team who doesn’t even know she’s alive? Pointless.

So Vân Uoc tries to stick to her reality-keeping a low profile as a scholarship student at her prestigious Melbourne private school, managing her mother’s PTSD from a traumatic emigration from Vietnam, and admiring Billy from afar. Until she makes a wish that inexplicably (possibly magically) comes true. Billy actually notices her. In fact, he seems to genuinely like her. But as they try to fit each other into their very different lives, confounding parents and confusing friends, Vân Uoc can’t help but wonder why Billy has suddenly fallen for her. Is it the magic of first love, or is it magic from a well-timed wish that will eventually, inevitably, come to an end?

 

blood for bloodBlood for Blood by Ryan Graudin (ISBN-13: 9780316405157 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 11/01/2016 Series: Wolf by Wolf Series)

The action-packed, thrilling sequel to Ryan Graudin’s Wolf by Wolf.

There would be blood.
Blood for blood.
Blood to pay.
An entire world of it.

For the resistance in 1950s Germany, the war may be over, but the fight has just begun.

Death camp survivor Yael, who has the power to skinshift, is on the run: the world has just seen her shoot and kill Hitler. But the truth of what happened is far more complicated, and its consequences are deadly. Yael and her unlikely comrades dive into enemy territory to try to turn the tide against the New Order, and there is no alternative but to see their mission through to the end, whatever the cost.

But dark secrets reveal dark truths, and one question hangs over them all: how far can you go for the ones you love?

This gripping, thought-provoking sequel to Wolf by Wolf will grab readers by the throat with its cinematic writing, fast-paced action, and relentless twists.

 


love andLove and First Sight by Josh Sundquist
(ISBN-13: 9780316305358 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 01/03/2017)

In his debut novel, YouTube personality and author of We Should Hang Out Sometime Josh Sundquist explores the nature of love, trust, and romantic attraction.
On his first day at a new school, blind sixteen-year-old Will Porter accidentally groped a girl on the stairs, sat on another student in the cafeteria, and somehow drove a classmate to tears. High school can only go up from here, right?

As Will starts to find his footing, he develops a crush on a charming, quiet girl named Cecily. Then an unprecedented opportunity arises: an experimental surgery that could give Will eyesight for the first time in his life. But learning to see is more difficult than Will ever imagined, and he soon discovers that the sighted world has been keeping secrets. It turns out Cecily doesn’t meet traditional definitions of beauty—in fact, everything he’d heard about her appearance was a lie engineered by their so-called friends to get the two of them together. Does it matter what Cecily looks like? No, not really. But then why does Will feel so betrayed?

Told with humor and breathtaking poignancy, Love and First Sight is a story about how we related to each other and the world around us.

 

 

frostbloodFrostblood by Elly Blake (ISBN-13: 9780316273251 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 01/17/2017)

The first in a page-turning young adult series about a world where flame and ice are mortal enemies—but together create a power that could change everything.

Seventeen-year-old Ruby is a fireblood who must hide her powers of heat and flame from the cruel frostblood ruling class that wants to destroy all that are left of her kind. So when her mother is killed for protecting her and rebel frostbloods demand her help to kill their rampaging king, she agrees. But Ruby’s powers are unpredictable, and she’s not sure she’s willing to let the rebels and an infuriating (yet irresistible) young man called Arcus use her as their weapon. All she wants is revenge, but before they can take action, Ruby is captured and forced to fight for her life in tournaments that pit fireblood prisoners against frostblood champions. Now she has only one chance to destroy the maniacal ruler who has taken everything from her and from the icy young man she has come to love.

 

 

tragicA Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom (ISBN-13: 9780316260060 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 02/07/2017)

In the vein of It’s Kind of a Funny Story and All the Bright Places, comes a captivating, immersive exploration of life with mental illness.
For sixteen-year-old Mel Hannigan, bipolar disorder makes life unpredictable. Her latest struggle is balancing her growing feelings in a new relationship with her instinct to conceal her diagnosis by keeping everyone at arm’s length. But when a former friend confronts Mel with the truth about the way their relationship ended, deeply buried secrets threaten to come out and upend her shaky equilibrium.

As the walls of Mel’s compartmentalized world crumble, she fears the worst-that no one will accept her if they discover what she’s been hiding. But would her friends really abandon her if they learned the truth? More importantly, can Mel bring herself to risk everything to find out?

In A Tragic Kind of Wonderful, Eric Lindstrom, author of the critically acclaimed Not If I See You First, examines the fear that keeps us from exposing our true selves, and the courage it takes to be loved for who we really are.

 

 

dreamlandDreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham (ISBN-13: 9780316384933 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 02/21/2017)

Some bodies won’t stay buried.
Some stories need to be told.

When seventeen-year-old Rowan Chase finds a skeleton on her family’s property, she has no idea that investigating the brutal century-old murder will lead to a summer of painful discoveries about the past… and the present.

Nearly one hundred years earlier, a misguided violent encounter propels seventeen-year-old Will Tillman into a racial firestorm. In a country rife with violence against blacks and a hometown segregated by Jim Crow, Will must make hard choices on a painful journey towards self discovery and face his inner demons in order to do what’s right the night Tulsa burns.

Through intricately interwoven alternating perspectives, Jennifer Latham’s lightning-paced page-turner brings the Tulsa race riot of 1921 to blazing life and raises important question about the complex state of US race relations – both yesterday and today.

 

seven daysSeven Days of You by Cecilia Vinesse (ISBN-13: 9780316391115 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 03/07/2017)

Anna and the French Kiss meets Before Sunrise in this smart and swoony debut.

Sophia has seven days left in Tokyo before she moves back to the States. Seven Days to say good-bye to the electric city, her wild best friend, and the boy she’s harbored a semi-secret crush on for years. Seven perfect days….Until Jamie Foster-Collins moves back to Japan and ruins everything.

Jamie and Sophia have a history of heartbreak, and the last thing Sophia wants is for him to steal her leaving thunder with his stupid arriving thunder. Yet as the week counts down, the relationships she thought were stable begin to explode around her. And Jamie is the one who helps her pick up the pieces. Sophia is forced to admit she may have misjudged Jamie, but can their seven short days of Tokyo adventures end in anything but good-bye?

Book Review: Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown

Publisher’s description

georgiaJoanna meets the perfect girl for her and must decide whether to break a promise that could change everything for her and her family or lose out on love in this charming young adult romance that’s perfect for fans of Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’ and Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.

Joanna Gordon has been out and proud for years, but when her popular radio evangelist father remarries and decides to move all three of them from Atlanta to the more conservative Rome, Georgia, he asks Jo to do the impossible: to lie low for the rest of her senior year. And Jo reluctantly agrees.

Although it is (mostly) much easier for Jo to fit in as a straight girl, things get complicated when she meets Mary Carlson, the oh-so-tempting sister of her new friend at school. But Jo couldn’t possibly think of breaking her promise to her dad. Even if she’s starting to fall for the girl. Even if there’s a chance Mary Carlson might be interested in her, too. Right?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I enjoyed the heck out of this book. It’s not perfect—sometimes the plot felt convoluted, sometimes characters acted in ways that felt inconsistent—but this is a great story that feels really fresh and, super bonus, is a f/f romance with a happy ending. I find it easy to forgive minor flaws when the other many positives far outweigh things I found lacking.

 

The plot is pretty well summarized in that description up there, but it’s all of the nuance that makes it worth reading. The fact that the story is so much about faith and identity was really interesting and, again, feels like something we don’t see a whole lot of. Joanna moves to small Rome, Georgia for her senior year. She thinks of it as “where queer girls go to die.” For a lot of reasons (none of them particularly great), her reverend dad would like Joanna to go back in the closet, or “lie low” as he calls it. Tied to this is the fact that Joanna intends to start her own radio ministry, like her dad, to help support kids like her—gay kids of faith and teens in general. If Joanna “lies low” for the year, she can eventually share her true self again with people and come out on her radio show.

 

The whole deal seems kind of bonkers, but she goes along with it. She gets a makeover to appear more “normal,” in a kind of “why not go for broke?” move. Joanna starts attending the youth group at her new stepmother’s church, quickly becomes friends with a close-knit group of girls, and suddenly is doing things like going to football games, parties, and sleepovers. The story could stop there—could just be about a girl who was out but now isn’t, and how faith ties in with all of it—but it takes the much more interesting step of having Joanna fall for Mary Carlson, a seemingly straight girl and the sister of Joanna’s one other real friend, B.T.B. She keeps getting signals that maybe Mary Carlson could be into her—something she finds almost impossible to believe but readers sure won’t—and before long finds herself in a super weird position: dating a girl who wants to come out, but pretending her (Joanna’s) attraction to girls is also a new revelation, and really needing to not be out herself, to keep up her part of her agreement with her dad.

 

For the most part, the story follows a predictable path, but it’s completely fun, cute, and satisfying the whole way through. Despite Joanna’s dad’s desire for her to hide her sexuality for a while, he is supportive and loving (which is part of what makes his request seem so weird and inconsistent with who he actually is), as is her stepmother, other family members, and nearly all of her friends old and new. Me telling you the girls get their happily ever after isn’t meant to spoil anything, but is meant to reinforce how important this book, and the girls’ relationship, is. Funny, thoughtful, sweet, and complicated, this book is a necessary addition to all YA collections. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062270986

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 08/30/2016