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The Healing Power of Fiction, a guest post by Nora Shalaway Carpenter

I am passionate and outspoken about authentic, non-stereotyped mental health representation in young adult literature. To explain why, let me tell you story.

When I was diagnosed with trauma-induced, severe obsessive compulsive disorder and PTSD, my husband and I confided in our immediate family. Here are some of their initial responses:

“Just think about happy things. You can do it!”

Blank stares and silence.

“You’re going to hurt the baby!” (I was carrying our first child at the time.)

“What you went through was for the best, in the long term. You’re lucky.” 

About a month later, a family member took me out to lunch. As I sat in the restaurant, barely holding myself together, she told me: “It’s time to stop this now. You have to snap of it.”

Let me translate that from the point of view of an individual suffering with mental health: You are behaving this way on purpose. You’re choosing to be miserable all the time. If you were stronger, you wouldn’t be like this.”

Although I still haven’t completely recovered from the emotional damage that statement caused, my relative is far from alone in that view. Her Appalachian culture (the culture I grew up in as well) instills a “yank yourself up by your own bootstraps” mentality almost from birth. Mental strength is a prized (and expected) attribute. If you’re not in tip top mental shape all the time, you bury that fact where it will never see the light of day because it’s a source of shame not only for you, but for your entire family.

Again, such mentality is not unique to Appalachian culture. Similar ideas cross myriad backgrounds, cultures, and socio-economic classes: that only “weak” or “insane” people suffer with mental health; that mental health struggles are imagined and not actually real; that medication to treat them is somehow shameful whereas medication for physical illnesses is a no-brainer.

After the disappointing reactions from my family, I tried one more lifeline: a close friend who was almost a second mom to me. And though she looked sad, she also looked bewildered, like I had spoken a different language. “Tell me what you need,” she said, trying to be helpful. And I know she was genuine, that she was asking because she truly didn’t know.

It turns out, people in crisis can rarely articulate what they need, but I didn’t know that at the time. Instead I felt stupid for not knowing and guilty for making her feel awkward. I left as soon as I could.   

Suffice it to say, I didn’t tell anyone else what was happening with me. If family members and a trusted confident couldn’t handle it, I reasoned my peers would probably ditch me immediately. Even with a diagnosis, it took a long time to get me on the correct treatment plan, so I spiraled into a very dark place. I couldn’t touch the dog I used to snuggle with every day because my brain told me he might carry germs that could hurt my unborn baby. I couldn’t use a public bathroom. I couldn’t handle raw meat anymore because what if I didn’t wash my hands well enough and I made someone sick? I checked and rechecked and checked again that the stove was off…and then I wasn’t sure if I’d checked. And once—one of my most vivid memories from that time—I literally couldn’t stop washing my hands and arms and had to call my husband downstairs to help me turn off the water.

I was terrified of getting out of bed each day because of all the triggers I’d endure while awake. I put all of my suffering focus into graduate school (it was low-residency, thank goodness, so mostly online) and I stopped hanging out with friends. 

One day, one of them asked me to grab tea with her, and because I hadn’t seen her in a while and was determined to overcome my horrible disease by sheer force of will, I agreed. As we sat sipping our drinks, she gently told me she knew something was wrong. That I could talk to her. I was mortified. I’d tried so hard to hide all my symptoms, to appear normal. But I couldn’t do it any longer. Everything spilled out—the trauma, the diagnosis, the way I couldn’t control the wild, spinning thoughts in my head that made me feel like I was slowly losing my mind.

As much as the “snap out of it” reaction is seared into my memory, so too is my friend’s response. She didn’t tell me I could fend off OCD with positive thoughts. She hugged me so that I felt in my bones she would never abandon me in this; she would never run away from this ugliness. She cried with me, right there in public. It was the first time someone (apart from my husband) didn’t imply that my OCD was in some shape or form my fault.

It is not an overstatement to say that proper treatment (for me, serotonin and cognitive behavioral therapy), both of which I never would have received or accepted without the support of important friends, saved my life.

I’m a writer, so as I began to heal, I knew that in order to process what I’d been through, I had to write about it—not the actual, real life details of my personal situation, but the feelings and emotions the experience brought out: the utter despair that I’d somehow brought this on myself and would never again be okay. That I wasn’t trying hard enough to get better. That despite having loving people around me like my husband, I was totally, horrifyingly alone.

I also wanted to explore the kind of friendship that could pull a person through such a hellish experience, and how such a friendship is established.

The Edge of Anything is the book I’d longed for during my own darkest days. It tells the dual narrative of two teenagers—one a shy photographer unknowingly suffering a mental health crisis, the other a popular volleyball star with her own devastating secret—and the unexpected friendship that saves them both. 

The book stars teenagers because I’m a young adult author, but also because teenagers are one of the most vulnerable populations when it comes to mental health. Sadly, according to recent statistics, one out of every five teenagers suffer from at least one mental health disorder per year[i], and the rate of depression in adolescents aged 12-17 has increased 63 percent since 2013[ii]. What’s more, seven-in-ten teens see anxiety and depression as “major problems among their peers.”[iii] When I think about how difficult it was for me, as an adult with health care and a supportive spouse, to figure out what was happening and find a health care specialist who understood what I was going through, the thought of undergoing a similar experience as a teen is devastating.

Today, I can tell people I have OCD. More than once someone has confided in me about their own struggles (or those of someone they care about) and I’ve been able to help them a tiny bit on their journey. Because communication matters. It can change and save lives.

It’s my hope that The Edge of Anything will function in a similar way for readers, both those all-too-familiar with mental health struggles and those with no personal experience. No one needs to be told life isn’t fair. But I think we do all need to hear that sometimes we are not okay, and that itself is okay and not something that should shame or devalue a person. We are all loveable and beautiful—just as we are, even if we are undergoing a serious, behavior-altering health condition. And we all need to hear that there’s hope.


[i] https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/adolescent-development/mental-health/adolescent-mental-health-basics/index.html

[ii] https://www.newportacademy.com/resources/mental-health/teen-depression-study/

[iii] https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2019/02/20/most-u-s-teens-see-anxiety-and-depression-as-a-major-problem-among-their-peers/

Meet Nora Shalaway Carpenter

A graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts’ MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program, Nora Shalaway Carpenter is the author of THE EDGE OF ANYTHING, contributing editor of RURAL VOICES: 15 AUTHORS CHALLENGE ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT SMALL-TOWN AMERICA (Candlewick, Oct 13, 2020), and author of the picture book YOGA FROG (Running Press). Originally from rural West Virginia, she currently lives in Asheville, North Carolina with her husband, three young children, and the world’s most patient dog and cat. Learn more at noracarpenterwrites.com, @noracarpenterwrites on Instagram, and @norawritesbooks on Twitter.

Nora’s local indie is Malaprop’s Books in Asheville, NC. Order her book there!

About The Edge of Anything

A vibrant #ownvoices debut YA novel about grief, mental health, and the transformative power of friendship.

Len is a loner teen photographer haunted by a past that’s stagnated her work and left her terrified she’s losing her mind. Sage is a high school volleyball star desperate to find a way around her sudden medical disqualification. Both girls need college scholarships. After a chance encounter, the two develop an unlikely friendship that enables them to begin facing their inner demons.

But both Len and Sage are keeping secrets that, left hidden, could cost them everything, maybe even their lives.

Set in the North Carolina mountains, this dynamic #ownvoices novel explores grief, mental health, and the transformative power of friendship.

ISBN-13: 9780762467587
Publisher: Running Press Book Publishers
Publication date: 03/24/2020
Age Range: 13 – 18 Years

Book Review: Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

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, a STARRED review, which originally appeared in an issue of School Library Journal.

 Gr 9 Up–Black, queer, and trans Felix explores love, friendship, and possibly retribution in this powerful #OwnVoices story of identity and self-worth. Seventeen-year-old Felix Love hopes the summer art program he’s attending will help raise his grades and increase his chances of getting a full scholarship to attend Brown. Surrounded by a diverse and mostly queer group of artist friends, Felix navigates complicated relationships, including transphobia and harassment from his own friends, from his loving but still learning father, and from an anonymous bully. Bent on revenge, Felix begins catfishing his top suspect, only to encounter some uncomfortable and surprising revelations about not just his potential tormentor, but his own feelings. Coping with the abandonment of his mother and feeling like he isn’t worthy of love, Felix also grapples with the unsettling feeling that his identity still isn’t the best fit. It’s only after a lot of research that he discovers the label “demiboy” and begins to feel a sense of comfort that extends to how he works through and untangles his various complex relationships, both romantic and platonic. Immensely readable, the narration and the dialogue are honest, smart, and at times, bitingly vicious. Felix and friends are complicated characters, constantly fighting, messing up, and making up. Felix is achingly relatable, both vulnerable and guarded, often on the sidelines but wanting so much more. His explorations address privilege, marginalization, and intersectionality while he learns about what and who get to define a person.

VERDICT Full of warmth, love, and support, this is an important story and an essential purchase.

HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. May 2020. 368p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780062820259

Book Review: Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry

Publisher’s description

The Torres sisters dream of escape. Escape from their needy and despotic widowed father, and from their San Antonio neighborhood, full of old San Antonio families and all the traditions and expectations that go along with them. In the summer after her senior year of high school, Ana, the oldest sister, falls to her death from her bedroom window. A year later, her three younger sisters, Jessica, Iridian, and Rosa, are still consumed by grief and haunted by their sister’s memory. Their dream of leaving Southtown now seems out of reach. But then strange things start happening around the house: mysterious laughter, mysterious shadows, mysterious writing on the walls. The sisters begin to wonder if Ana really is haunting them, trying to send them a message—and what exactly she’s trying to say.

In a stunning follow-up to her National Book Award–longlisted novel All the Wind in the World, Samantha Mabry weaves an aching, magical novel that is one part family drama, one part ghost story, and one part love story.

Amanda’s thoughts

Only two months and a few dozen books into 2020 and I’m ready to call something one of my favorite books of the year? Yes, yes I am. This stunning book is easily the best thing I’ve read so far this year.

After their sister Ana falls to her death, the remaining Torres sisters, Jessica, Iridian, and Rosa, survive only because they have to. Rosa looks for meaning with animals, particularly in an escaped hyena she feels certain has something to do with her dead sister’s spirit. Iridian hides out in books and writing, haunted by her final words to Ana. And Jessica spends her time with the worst possible boy to be with. They see snippets of things that point to Ana somehow being back, wanting something, needing something, though they’re not sure what her message is.

The power and beauty of this book is in the lovely writing and the magnificent, unforgettable characters. This is a story about what happens when girls become ghosts, when girls become animals. This is about what happens when girls embrace anger, when girls attack, when girls grow sick of the imprints men leave upon them. This is about aching, desperate, trapped, screaming girls. This is a warning and a celebration of what happens when girls become feral, become hunters, when girls decide they are not sorry. This haunting story is about sisterhood and death, about power and pain, and about confronting men and boys who are meddling cowards and abusers. A fierce story of heartbreak, grief, connection, and the complications of the human heart. Absolutely not to be missed.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781616208967
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Publication date: 03/24/2020

Ages 14-18

Post-It Note Reviews: Graphic novels, road trips, repeat proms, guides to democracy, and more

I do my best to get a LOT of reading done, but can’t even begin to attempt to read all the books that show up here. Even if I quit my library job, I still couldn’t read them all.  I read just about every free second I have—sitting in the car while waiting for my kid, on my lunch breaks at work, sometimes even while I’m walking in the hall at work. A lot of that kind of reading isn’t super conducive to really deep reading or taking many notes. Or maybe I’m reading in my own house, but while covered in sleeping dachshunds, or while trying to block out the noise of kids playing. I might not get around to being able to write a full review, but I still want to share these books with you, so here are my tiny Post-it Note reviews of a few titles. I also do these posts focusing on books for younger readers. It’s a great way to display books in your library or classroom, a way to let kids recommend their favorite titles without having to get up in front of everyone and do a book talk, and an easy way to offer a more personal recommendation than just the flap copy offers.

All summaries are from the publishers. Transcription of Post-it note review under the summary. 

Hex Vet: Witches in Training by Sam Davies

In a world where magic is an ordinary part of daily life, two young apprentice veterinarians pursue their dreams of caring for supernatural creatures.

Have you ever wondered where witches’ cats go when they pull a claw? Or what you do with a pygmy phoenix with a case of bird flu? Nan and Clarion have you covered. They’re the best veterinarian witches of all time—at least they’re trying to be. But when an injured rabbit with strange eyes stumbles into their lives, Nan and Clarion have to put down their enchanted potions and face the biggest test of their magical, medical careers…and possibly lose some dignity in the process.

Hex Vet: Witches in Training is the debut original graphic novel from acclaimed cartoonist Sam Davies (Stutterhug) and explores a truly spellbinding story about sticking together and helping animals at all costs.

(POST-IT SAYS: Large panels and minimal dialogue make this genuinely entertaining story fly by. Fans of magical creatures will love this action-filled story. Ages 8-11)

Sanity & Tallulah (Sanity & Tallulah Series #1) by Molly Brooks

Sanity Jones and Tallulah Vega are best friends on Wilnick, the dilapidated space station they call home at the end of the galaxy. So naturally, when gifted scientist Sanity uses her lab skills and energy allowance to create a definitely-illegal-but-impossibly-cute three-headed kitten, she has to show Tallulah. But Princess, Sparkle, Destroyer of Worlds is a bit of a handful, and it isn’t long before the kitten escapes to wreak havoc on the space station. The girls will have to turn Wilnick upside down to find her, but not before causing the whole place to evacuate! Can they save their home before it’s too late?

Readers will be over the moon for this rollicking space adventure by debut author Molly Brooks.

(POST-IT SAYS: Smart girls in space! An adventurous 3-headed kitten and a space station possibly under threat mixes with humor and fun, diverse characters. Fans of sci-fi will adore this. Ages 8-12)

The Long Ride by Marina Budhos

In the tumult of 1970s New York City, seventh graders are bussed from their neighborhood in Queens to integrate a new school in South Jamaica.

Jamila Clarke. Josie Rivera. Francesca George. Three mixed-race girls, close friends whose immigrant parents worked hard to settle their families in a neighborhood with the best schools. The three girls are outsiders there, but they have each other.

Now, at the start seventh grade, they are told they will be part of an experiment, taking a long bus ride to a brand-new school built to “mix up the black and white kids.” Their parents don’t want them to be experiments. Francesca’s send her to a private school, leaving Jamila and Josie to take the bus ride without her.

While Francesca is testing her limits, Josie and Jamila find themselves outsiders again at the new school. As the year goes on, the Spanish girls welcome Josie, while Jamila develops a tender friendship with a boy—but it’s a relationship that can exist only at school.

(POST-IT SAYS: Solidly a middle grade novel. The struggles and challenges with race, class, gender, friendship, and adolescence are real and honest. A smart look at bussing, integration, and change. Ages 10-14)

This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work by Tiffany Jewell, Aurelia Durand (Illustrator)

Who are you? What is racism? Where does it come from? Why does it exist? What can you do to disrupt it? Learn about social identities, the history of racism and resistance against it, and how you can use your anti-racist lens and voice to move the world toward equity and liberation.

“In a racist society, it’s not enough to be non-racist—we must be ANTI-RACIST.” —Angela Davis

Gain a deeper understanding of your anti-racist self as you progress through 20 chapters that spark introspection, reveal the origins of racism that we are still experiencing, and give you the courage and power to undo it. Each chapter builds on the previous one as you learn more about yourself and racial oppression. Exercise prompts get you thinking and help you grow with the knowledge.

Author Tiffany Jewell, an anti-bias, anti-racist educator and activist, builds solidarity beginning with the language she chooses—using gender neutral words to honor everyone who reads the book. Illustrator Aurélia Durand brings the stories and characters to life with kaleidoscopic vibrancy.

After examining the concepts of social identity, race, ethnicity, and racism, learn about some of the ways people of different races have been oppressed, from indigenous Americans and Australians being sent to boarding school to be “civilized” to a generation of Caribbean immigrants once welcomed to the UK being threatened with deportation by strict immigration laws.

Find hope in stories of strength, love, joy, and revolution that are part of our history, too, with such figures as the former slave Toussaint Louverture, who led a rebellion against white planters that eventually led to Haiti’s independence, and Yuri Kochiyama, who, after spending time in an internment camp for Japanese Americans during WWII, dedicated her life to supporting political prisoners and advocating reparations for those wrongfully interned.

This book is written for EVERYONE who lives in this racialized society—including the young person who doesn’t know how to speak up to the racist adults in their life, the kid who has lost themself at times trying to fit into the dominant culture, the children who have been harmed (physically and emotionally) because no one stood up for them or they couldn’t stand up for themselves, and also for their families, teachers, and administrators.

With this book, be empowered to actively defy racism to create a community (large and small) that truly honors everyone.

(POST-IT SAYS: Phenomenal resource. I truly wish everyone would read this. Drives home the point that diversity and inclusion are not enough—you have to be actively anti-racist. Empowering and educational. Ages 12-18)

More to the Story by Hena Khan

From the critically acclaimed author of Amina’s Voice comes a new story inspired by Louisa May Alcott’s beloved classic, Little Women, featuring four sisters from a modern American Muslim family living in Georgia.

When Jameela Mirza is picked to be feature editor of her middle school newspaper, she’s one step closer to being an award-winning journalist like her late grandfather. The problem is her editor-in-chief keeps shooting down her article ideas. Jameela’s assigned to write about the new boy in school, who has a cool British accent but doesn’t share much, and wonders how she’ll make his story gripping enough to enter into a national media contest.

Jameela, along with her three sisters, is devastated when their father needs to take a job overseas, away from their cozy Georgia home for six months. Missing him makes Jameela determined to write an epic article—one to make her dad extra proud. But when her younger sister gets seriously ill, Jameela’s world turns upside down. And as her hunger for fame looks like it might cost her a blossoming friendship, Jameela questions what matters most, and whether she’s cut out to be a journalist at all…

(POST-IT SAYS: A sweet and quiet story of family, friendship, missteps, and identity. Really lovely with plenty of parallels to Little Women, but those unfamiliar with the source material will do just fine. Ages 9-12)

You Call This Democracy?: How to Fix Our Government and Deliver Power to the People by Elizabeth Rusch (3/31/2020)

All of the challenges facing our democracy today… problems with the electoral college, gerrymandering, voter suppression, lack of representation, voter disinterest, citizens who cannot vote, lobbying, money…lead to two questions: why doesn’t every vote really count? And what are we going to do about it?

Author Elizabeth Rusch examines some of the more problematic aspects of our government but, more importantly, offers ways for young people to fix them.

(POST-IT SAYS: Packed full of information, contemporary examples, and appealing visuals. Educates as well as inspires participation and action. For many, this comprehensive book will be an eye-opening look at the abuses and failures of government. Ages 13-18)

The Night of Your Life by Lydia Sharp (3/03/2020)

He’s having the worst prom ever… over and over again.

Does a perfect prom night exist? JJ’s about to find out.

All year, JJ’s been looking forward to going to prom with his best friend, Lucy. It will be their last hurrah before graduation — a perfect night where all their friends will relax, have fun together, and celebrate making it through high school.

But nothing goes according to plan. When a near car crash derails JJ before he even gets to prom, a potential new romance surfaces, and Lucy can’t figure out what happened to him, things spiral out of control. The best night of their lives quickly turns into the worst.

That is… until JJ wakes up the next day only to find that it’s prom night all over again. At first, JJ thinks he’s lucky to have the chance to get innumerable chances at perfecting the night of his life. But each day ends badly for him and Lucy, no matter what he does. Can he find a way to escape the time loop and move into the future with the girl he loves?

In the end, JJ might not get the prom he wanted, but he may well get the prom he needed…

(POST-IT SAYS: I never get tired of stories with a Groundhog Day premise. this light, fun prom story is a quick read all about figuring things out, getting it right, and learning when to move on. Ages 13-18)

All the Invisible Things by Orlagh Collins (3/03/2020)

In this contemporary YA for fans of Becky Albertalli, one girl decides it’s time to be really be herself–but will that cost her the best friend who once meant everything to her?

Ever since her mom died and her family moved to a new town four years ago, sixteen-year-old Vetty Lake has hidden her heart. She’d rather keep secrets than risk getting hurt–even if that means not telling anyone that she’s pretty sure she’s bisexual.

But this summer, everything could change. Vetty and her family are moving back to her old neighborhood, right across the street from her childhood best friend Pez. Next to Pez, she always felt free and fearless. Reconnecting with him could be the link she needs to get back to her old self.

Vetty quickly discovers Pez isn’t exactly the boy she once knew. He has a new group of friends, a glamorous sort-of-girlfriend named March, and a laptop full of secrets. And things get even more complicated when she feels a sudden spark with March.

As Vetty navigates her relationship with Pez and her own shifting feelings, one question looms: Does becoming the girl she longs to be mean losing the friendship that once was everything to her?

(POST-IT SAYS: This exploration of sexuality and adolescence is quiet but powerful. Realistic, sensitive, and tender, full of really beautiful writing, this character-driven story will be relatable and affirming for many readers. Ages 14-18)

Almost American Girl: An Illustrated Memoir by Robin Ha

A powerful and moving teen graphic novel memoir about immigration, belonging, and how arts can save a life—perfect for fans of American Born Chinese and Hey, Kiddo.

For as long as she can remember, it’s been Robin and her mom against the world. Growing up as the only child of a single mother in Seoul, Korea, wasn’t always easy, but it has bonded them fiercely together.

So when a vacation to visit friends in Huntsville, Alabama, unexpectedly becomes a permanent relocation—following her mother’s announcement that she’s getting married—Robin is devastated.

Overnight, her life changes. She is dropped into a new school where she doesn’t understand the language and struggles to keep up. She is completely cut off from her friends in Seoul and has no access to her beloved comics. At home, she doesn’t fit in with her new stepfamily, and worst of all, she is furious with the one person she is closest to—her mother.

Then one day Robin’s mother enrolls her in a local comic drawing class, which opens the window to a future Robin could never have imagined.  

(POST-IT SAYS: An insightful look at the life of a young immigrant trying to find where she fits as she redefines home, culture, family, and friendship. Heartfelt and excellent. Ages 12-18)

Clean Getaway by Nic Stone

From New York Times bestselling author Nic Stone comes a middle-grade road-trip story through American race relations past and present, perfect for Black History Month and for fans of Jacqueline Woodson and Jason Reynolds.

How to Go on an Unplanned Road Trip with Your Grandma:

Grab a Suitcase: Prepacked from the big spring break trip that got CANCELLED.

Fasten Your Seatbelt: G’ma’s never conventional, so this trip won’t be either.

Use the Green Book: G’ma’s most treasured possession. It holds history, memories, and most important, the way home.

What Not to Bring:

A Cell Phone: Avoid contact with Dad at all costs. Even when G’ma starts acting stranger than usual.

Set against the backdrop of the segregation history of the American South, take a trip with New York Times bestselling Nic Stone and an eleven-year-old boy who is about to discover that the world hasn’t always been a welcoming place for kids like him, and things aren’t always what they seem—his G’ma included. Real historical elements like the Green Book, the subject and namesake of the recent Oscar winning film, make this an educational and powerful read.

(POST-IT SAYS: An immensely readable inter-generational road trip that reveals secrets, history, and hard truths about race, civil rights, and family. I adore Scoob and G’ma. Ages 9-12)

The Bad Man With the Nice Smile, a guest post by Victoria Lee

Content warning: discussion of sexual assault, rape, child abuse, and gaslighting.

In September 2019, Netflix released a new miniseries, Unbelievable. The show followed the true story of a young girl who claimed a stranger broke into her house at night and raped her. But when she reports what happened to the police, parts of her story don’t seem to match up. As the series unfolds, we become aware of all the ways the system—but also the girl’s friends and family—have become biased against her. She’s a resident in a group home, a former delinquent, a foster child with a history of acting out, who had made accusations of abuse before. Everyone seems to assume that she is lying for attention.

As you might have predicted by now, she wasn’t lying. But by the time her attacker was caught and brought to justice, the damage was done; the girl had already been abandoned by everyone she should have been able to trust, just because she didn’t match the vision of what a “real” victim looked like in their heads.

The idea of real victims is a pervasive and pernicious one. Turn on the news and you’ll hear a litany of all the things that real victims do: they wear the right clothes, they don’t go out at night, they report the crime to the police and they don’t wait to do it, they have never made these kinds of allegations before. We are told these things even though victims cannot control the behavior of their aggressors, even though being in foster care or having mental illness or having been previously victimized all substantially increase your likelihood of experiencing future violence. Even though externalizing behaviors like drug use and acting out are often symptoms of having survived abuse.

As a child, I was sexually abused for four years, from ages twelve to sixteen. The perpetrator—although maybe I should say the molester or the rapist or the abuser, all of which are less sanitized and therefore strike me as more accurate—was a close friend of the family. He was my neighbor, my triathlon coach, a man so enmeshed in our lives that I described him to other people as my uncle because any lesser word seemed inadequate to describe the relationship he had with my family. He was in his early thirties and looked like Orlando Bloom and every single one of my friends who came over to the house commented on how ungodly hot he was.

When I was thirteen, I even wrote a character in one of my stories to look just like Brian. (We will call him Brian, because that is, in fact, his actual name. F you, Brian.) The character was the love interest, and was also the protagonist’s teacher. As you can see, already I knew that my job as victim was to romanticize such things. That was the only way to survive.

Brian was not a man in the bushes, was not unshaven in a stained wifebeater; he had no substance abuse problems that I was aware of; he was just a guy. A tall, athletic, well-educated, charismatic, attractive guy. Kids loved him, and he loved kids. Me, on the other hand…I couldn’t be a victim.

I was not what a victim looked like. I was a problem child. I spent too much time on the internet, and listened to angry music, and skipped class and stole my parents’ credit card and shoplifted and screamed at teachers and once threatened to kill a boy who touched me wrong. I was the girl that other girls weren’t allowed to be friends with. I was the girl they prayed for at night. I was the girl who wore boys’ clothes, all black, and kissed other girls and insisted it wasn’t a phase.

Therefore, I was not believed. Not by my family, not by my therapist. I was believed by the crisis team that was called in to evaluate me when the staff at the psychiatric hospital I was later admitted to following a suicide attempt suspected abuse. But at that point the damage was done—I swore to the crisis team that nothing had happened, their suspicions were unfounded, anything I had to say to keep the past buried. I couldn’t deal with being told, once again, that I wasn’t a victim.

Eventually, other girls came forward about my abuser, and he was charged by the state, and ultimately convicted. But this isn’t the kind of trauma you move past. Not just the trauma of the abuse, but the trauma of being told you’re too villainous to ever be victim.

This is why I wrote The Fever King and The Electric Heir. In the series, Dara and Noam both experience abuse in different ways. Dara was physically and sexually abused by a father figure, whereas Noam became enmeshed in an unhealthy, manipulative, exploitative relationship with a much older and much more powerful mentor figure. Both characters are, ultimately, abused by the same man, but their experiences of that abuse are different. The books follow how each character comes to terms with what happened to him, and begins the process of healing. Their abuser, like mine, was charismatic and respected and good-looking—he wasn’t the rapist hiding in the bushes or the drunk frat bro, he was a pillar of the community. When people look for the bad guy, they aren’t looking for Brian. They aren’t looking for Calix Lehrer.

That’s why it was so important to me to write about abusers who don’t fit our vivid stereotype of what an abuser ought to look like—that makes it more difficult to recognize abusers in the real world. And equally so, not all victim/survivors fit the same mold. Some survivors withdraw from the world and become quiet and nervous and fear sex. Other survivors lash out, angry, furious, willing to burn down anything that tries to hurt them again. And still others seem oddly unbothered by what happened to them, numb to the pain or burying it so deep they no longer feel it anymore.

All of these reactions—and others—are okay. The only “right” way to respond to trauma is the way that helps you survive.

I don’t think that good and varied representation of victim/survivors and abusers in literature is a panacea. Abusers are very skilled, after all, at gaslighting their victims (and everyone else). But wide representation of survivors and perpetrators is one step toward chipping away their power and undermining the stories they try to tell about villains and victims and heroes.

Meet Victoria Lee

Victoria Lee grew up in Durham, North Carolina, where she spent twelve ascetic years as a vegetarian before discovering that spicy chicken wings are, in fact, a delicacy. She’s been a state finalist competitive pianist, a hitchhiker, a pizza connoisseur, an EMT, an expat in China and Sweden, and a science doctoral student. She’s also a bit of a snob about fancy whiskey. Lee writes early in the morning and then spends the rest of the day trying to impress her border collie puppy and make her experiments work. She currently lives in Pennsylvania with her partner.

www.victorialeewrites.com Facebook: @victorialeewrites, @amazonpublishing Instagram: @sosaidvictoria, @amazonpublishing, Twitter: @sosaidvictoria, @amazonpub

About The Electric Heir by Victoria Lee

In the sequel to The Fever King, Noam Álvaro seeks to end tyranny before he becomes a tyrant himself.

Six months after Noam Álvaro helped overthrow the despotic government of Carolinia, the Atlantians have gained citizenship, and Lehrer is chancellor. But despite Lehrer’s image as a progressive humanitarian leader, Noam has finally remembered the truth that Lehrer forced him to forget—that Lehrer is responsible for the deadly magic infection that ravaged Carolinia.

Now that Noam remembers the full extent of Lehrer’s crimes, he’s determined to use his influence with Lehrer to bring him down for good. If Lehrer realizes Noam has evaded his control—and that Noam is plotting against him—Noam’s dead. So he must keep playing the role of Lehrer’s protégé until he can steal enough vaccine to stop the virus.

Meanwhile Dara Shirazi returns to Carolinia, his magic stripped by the same vaccine that saved his life. But Dara’s attempts to ally himself with Noam prove that their methods for defeating Lehrer are violently misaligned. Dara fears Noam has only gotten himself more deeply entangled in Lehrer’s web. Sooner or later, playing double agent might cost Noam his life.

ISBN-13: 9781542005074
Publisher: Amazon Publishing
Publication date: 03/17/2020
Series: Feverwake Series #2

Ages 14-17

How Running a Marathon Helped Me Write My Debut Novel, a guest post by Sarah Watson

Writing often feels like an impossible journey. I’ve heard people say it’s a lot like running a marathon. It’s not. A marathon is a lot easier. Like, a lot easier. Which is probably why I’ve run so many of them.

I signed up for my first marathon when I was twenty-five. I was trying to make it as a television writer and my dream was starting to feel impossible. I’d gotten rejection after rejection and hit wall after wall. I’m a type-A person, so it was incredibly humbling for me to set a goal, work harder than I ever had in my entire life, and still not be able to achieve it. I thought about giving up.

But I decided to sign up for a marathon instead.  

Even at the time, I think part of me probably knew that I was only doing it because I was so desperate to succeed at something. Anything. I just needed to set a goal and meet it. But the training turned out to be more brutal than I expected. I hit walls. I cried. Everything hurt. I thought about giving up. I really believe I would have, except that I was running with a group of girlfriends, and they wouldn’t let me. Most of them had run marathons before and they knew what the journey was like. They also knew what victory felt like on the other side. So they guided me, coached me, pushed me (sometimes literally), and refused to listen when I said I needed to stop. They shouted encouraging things at me, sometimes rather forcefully, and told me I could do it. It turned out they were right. I crossed the finish line that year. I’d never felt prouder in my entire life.

I also never doubted my journey as a writer again.

Running has been a constant metaphor in my (now successful, well, mostly successful) television career. It’s also been an incredible escape and a wonderful chance to stay connected to my girlfriends. So I suppose it makes sense that the idea for my debut novel, Most Likely, came from running.  

I hadn’t run a marathon in years and wasn’t even running regularly anymore when my friend told me that it was time to sign up for our last marathon. Apparently during one of our first races together she’d said something about how she wanted to run her final marathon when she turned forty. She claims I enthusiastically told her I would do it with her. I have no recollection of this. (Though frankly I would argue that anything said during a 26.2-mile run is not legally binding anyway.) But that’s the thing about friends, when they tell you that you’re going to do something, you do it.

We persuaded another friend to join us and we started training. We always talk while we run. About our relationships, our careers, our struggles. During the really long runs we sort through our problems. We find solutions for some of them; other problems don’t have solutions. For those we simply listen. We laugh. We cry. Then we laugh some more.

I loved running with my friends again. But my body was starting to hurt. Running a marathon at forty is nothing like running a marathon at twenty-five. As our mileage climbed higher and higher, my doubts got bigger and bigger. The week before our eighteen-mile training run I was scared—really scared—that I wouldn’t be able to do it. My friends told me the same thing they always did; that I could.

That eighteen-miler turned out to be one of the best runs of my entire life. As we ran those miles and talked and talked, an idea popped into my head about a group of friends who push each other to go farther, to dream bigger, and to be the best possible versions of themselves. That idea turned into my book.

Most Likely follows the high school days of a future female president. But really, it’s a simple story about female friendship. It all goes back to what I realized on that eighteen-mile day. Running is great and crossing the finish line really is an incredible feeling. But the reason I love running—truly love it—is because of the women running on either side of me.

Meet Sarah Watson

Sarah Watson is the creator of the hit TV series The Bold Type, which the New York Times described as “Sex and the Single Girl for millennials.” Previously she was a writer and executive producer of the critically acclaimed NBC drama Parenthood. She lives in Santa Monica, California. Most Likely is her debut novel.

About Most Likely

From the creator of the hit TV series The Bold Type comes an empowering and heartfelt novel about a future female president’s senior year of high school.

Ava, CJ, Jordan, and Martha (listed in alphabetical order out of fairness) have been friends since kindergarten. Now they’re in their senior year, facing their biggest fears about growing up and growing apart. But there’s more than just college on the horizon. One of these girls is destined to become the president of the United States. The mystery, of course, is which girl gets the gig.

Is it Ava, the picture-perfect artist who’s secretly struggling to figure out where she belongs? Or could it be CJ, the one who’s got everything figured out…except how to fix her terrible SAT scores? Maybe it’s Jordan, the group’s resident journalist, who knows she’s ready for more than their small Ohio suburb can offer. And don’t overlook Martha, who will have to overcome all the obstacles that stand in the way of her dreams.

This is the story of four best friends who have one another’s backs through every new love, breakup, stumble, and success—proving that great friendships can help young women achieve anything…even a seat in the Oval Office.

ISBN-13: 9780316454834
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 03/10/2020
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

Book Review: A Phoenix First Must Burn: Sixteen Stories of Black Girl Magic, Resistance, and Hope edited by Patrice Caldwell

Publisher’s description

Sixteen tales by bestselling and award-winning authors that explore the Black experience through fantasy, science fiction, and magic.

Evoking Beyoncé’s Lemonade for a teen audience, these authors who are truly Octavia Butler’s heirs, have woven worlds to create a stunning narrative that centers Black women and gender nonconforming individuals. A Phoenix First Must Burn will take you on a journey from folktales retold to futuristic societies and everything in between. Filled with stories of love and betrayal, strength and resistance, this collection contains an array of complex and true-to-life characters in which you cannot help but see yourself reflected. Witches and scientists, sisters and lovers, priestesses and rebels: the heroines of A Phoenix First Must Burn shine brightly. You will never forget them.

Amanda’s thoughts

The best thing, to me, about anthologies is that they introduce readers to a wide array of authors and then hopefully send them looking for more of their work. This collection includes so many wonderful writers and oooh will people be in for great treats if they’re just discovering some of these voices.

Standout stories include Amerie’s poignant tale of orcs landing in Central Park and a trip into space (and through a wormhole) revealing not only points of connection, but a paradox and a startling revelation. Alaya Dawn Johnson’s story about a fisherman and his sea maid wife is beautifully written. Justina Ireland’s piece features a girl hoping to be apprentice to a sorcerer, dragons, curses, and murderous unicorns. My favorite story is Dhonielle Clayton’s about a girl with a disintegrating heart and her decision to either grow it back or choose a new one. Danny Lore’s thoughtful story is about a witch who braids hair and “fixes your head” both literally and metaphorically. J. Marcelle Corrie’s piece lets characters use a program to predict how life events will play out. Other stories feature mermaids, vampires, fireball witches, vengeance, healing, uprisings, love, freedom, and so much magic.

Full of hope, strength, magic, and beauty, this anthology is an essential addition to all collections. Don’t miss this powerful look at creation, future, and resistance.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781984835659
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 03/10/2020

Book Review: Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales

Publisher’s description

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda meets Clueless in this boy-meets-boy spin on Grease.

Will Tavares is the dream summer fling—he’s fun, affectionate, kind—but just when Ollie thinks he’s found his Happily Ever After, summer vacation ends and Will stops texting Ollie back. Now Ollie is one prince short of his fairytale ending, and to complicate the fairytale further, a family emergency sees Ollie uprooted and enrolled at a new school across the country. Which he minds a little less when he realizes it’s the same school Will goes to…except Ollie finds that the sweet, comfortably queer guy he knew from summer isn’t the same one attending Collinswood High. This Will is a class clown, closeted—and, to be honest, a bit of a jerk.

Ollie has no intention of pining after a guy who clearly isn’t ready for a relationship, especially since this new, bro-y jock version of Will seems to go from hot to cold every other week. But then Will starts “coincidentally” popping up in every area of Ollie’s life, from music class to the lunch table, and Ollie finds his resolve weakening.

The last time he gave Will his heart, Will handed it back to him trampled and battered. Ollie would have to be an idiot to trust him with it again.

Right? Right.

Amanda’s thoughts

Let’s just start with this: Ollie deserves way better than Will. Sure, Will’s life is complicated because his summer fling with Ollie wasn’t meant to ever affect his “real life” at home once summer is over. He’s not out to anyone, so when Ollie shows up at his school as a new student, panic ensues. But Ollie spends the whole book pining for someone who so often treats him terribly. I don’t think literature should be handbooks for how to behave full of nothing but “good” choices and positive outcomes. Life is messy. Stories get to be full of messy people, too. But oooh did I want to holler at Ollie to move on with his life!

Ollie is immediately befriend by three girls at his new school, all of whom are interesting and complicated. He’s juggling trying to figure out what is going on with Will with finding his footing in this new school all while sometimes taking care of his aunt’s kids and dealing with the fact that she’s dying from cancer. Ollie’s cool and weird new girl friends inexplicably hang out with Will’s crew of basketball guys (inexplicably because, well, I’ve been in high school, and they hardly seem like a natural or even particularly friendly friend group). Summer Will was sweet and thoughtful. School Will is insufferable and smug. I guess those facts, combined with the whole summer fling who shows up at school aspect, are what make this story like Grease. If no one had planted this thought in mind, I never would seen it.

Of course, it’s not as straightforward as Will is a jerk to Ollie and that’s that. If it were, not only would there be no story—whatever story would be left would be boring. Again, life is messy, so while it’s sometimes infuriating to watch characters behave in really frustrating ways, they get to be inconsistent and complicated just we real humans are. Will still likes Ollie. Ollie still likes Will, despite the many crappy ways Will behaves toward him. Will starts be nicer to him, then freaks out, then is nicer, then freaks out, etc. until they finally (it’s hardly a spoiler to reveal this) figure out that they want to be together more than anything else.

Coming out often isn’t easy. It feels very real that Will would panic and behave differently toward Ollie in the setting of his school versus when it was just the two of them over the summer. Though Will is so often hurtful toward Ollie, I hope readers will remember that we need to see the whole spectrum of stories and experiences and representations. Confusion is okay. Being mildly terrible to people because of your own fears and insecurities is okay only in the sense that it’s very, very real. And while Will isn’t perfect, he’s VERY real. It was a real nice surprise to see everyone in Will’s life be supportive and loving when he does finally come out as bi.

In the end, sweet with a HEA, but the path there is rough and at times painful. Those who want swoon-worthy perfection in their relationships will be disappointed, but those who are deep in their own messy lives will totally get where both Will and Ollie are coming from.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781250315892
Publisher: St. Martin”s Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/03/2020

Books and Libraries Can Strengthen the Superpowers of Teens With ADHD, a guest post by Kirsten Lambert

What would you do if your child’s ADHD and dyslexia meant he hated reading and writing so much that he would try every diversion possible to avoid it: sharpening pencils ten times, hiding under a table, and even crying? If you’re author Rick Riordan, you write stories in which the main character has those very same conditions — but also make that character a demigod.

The stories, with their mythical tapestry — which Riordan wove when he ran out of bedtime stories for his son, Haley — became the best-selling Percy Jackson series. Although the protagonist Percy calls himself “hyperactive,” he soon discovers that he is descended from a Greek god and must save the world. The series puts a spotlight on a few of the abilities that people with ADHD often possess: creativity, spontaneity, a sense of humor.

Of course, most children with ADHD don’t have parents who write bestsellers. According to a 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, more 6 million American children, ages 2–17, have an ADHD diagnosis; more than 3 million of them are adolescents. And unfortunately popular culture often perpetuates negative stereotypes, painting kids with ADHD as loud, unable to sit still, and even academically challenged. Not everyone fits that picture, though, and some teen and YA fiction portrays the condition with authenticity. Beyond that, many teens with ADHD gravitate toward libraries — not just because they love to read, but because the atmosphere often serves as the ideal place for them to shine.

One novel that rings true is Focused by Alyson Gerber, which tells the story of Clea, a seventh-grader who struggles to pay attention and discovers she has ADHD. She gets distracted when she should be doing homework, she can’t seem to stay organized, she blurts out comments without thinking. She also loves playing chess. The book’s author draws on her own experience to allow readers a glimpse inside the mind of a teen who is gifted but finds school and friendships challenging. 

The YA novel Playing Tyler by T.L. Costa is the story of 17-year-old Tyler, a boy who has ADHD. His condition forms an integral part of the novel, and his character’s narration reflects his state of mind. When he’s not medicated, Tyler speaks in run-on sentences without punctuation — a convention that some readers find compelling and some find jarring. But rather than dwelling on only the challenges of living with ADHD, the book shows how teens can succeed when they hone in on pursuits that can sustain their interest, such as video games.

Kat and Meg Conquer the World by Anna Priemaza introduces readers to two tenth-grade girls: Kat, who has anxiety, and Meg, who has ADHD. The story allows readers inside the characters’ heads, and the details resonate with readers who have ADHD or anxiety, which often coexist. The story also delves into the social challenges that ADHD can present while showing how empowering friendships can be. 

Unlike today’s teen and YA fiction, which puts ADHD front and center, classic novels often feature characters who have ADHD-like traits but don’t spell it out.

Consider Anne Shirley (in the Anne of Green Gables series by Lucy Maud Montgomery). She’s impetuous and dramatic, with an intense curiosity and a tendency to blurt out things before thinking. While she’s impulsive and talkative, Anne is also charismatic and resourceful.

Or take Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka, the eccentric recluse with a solitary nature. He’s clearly a visionary thinker with a taste for adventure — plus he loves candy, perhaps a nod to the fact that people with ADHD often enjoy the rush of a sugar high (maybe to compensate for the shortage of the “feel good” neurotransmitters of dopamine and serotonin in their brains).

The Calvin character in Bill Watterson’s much-loved Calvin and Hobbes comic strip shows the razor-sharp wit that can come with ADHD. Sure, Calvin has some fantastical daydreams and draws plenty of ire from his teachers. But he’s clearly intelligent, with a dazzling imagination that helps him get through the hum-drum days of school and home.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes epitomizes the brilliant yet absentminded professor: His apartment is full of unfinished projects; he has trouble remembering appointments. Yet he solves crimes by noticing details that neurotypical people — those without ADHD — miss.

Besides offering vivid portrayals of people with ADHD, books like these have a fascinating effect on teens who may find it challenging to sit still in class: they can focus for hours. What’s more, a library can actually serve as the perfect environment for teens with ADHD.

Jennifer Kelly Geddes outlines some tips for accommodating students with ADHD in a School Library Journal article titled “How Librarians Help Kids With ADHD Thrive.” Here are a few more ideas especially for teens.

Offer a variety of seating options. Some teens with ADHD have sensory issues, too (for example, they might not like tags on clothes or may complain that some socks are itchy). So if you can, include nontraditional seating options like recliners, swivel chairs, or standing desks. You may even want to consider offering sensory cushions.

Minimize clutter. Teens with ADHD have a hard time ignoring sensory input, including visual stimuli. So although reading and study spaces don’t need to have colorless blank walls, try to avoid having multiple things compete for a student’s attention. These updated versions of the study carrel offer privacy as well as enough space for, say, a laptop. 

Limit noise. Teens with ADHD don’t necessarily need complete silence to focus; some of them actually find that listening to music can help them study. But they may be easily distracted in an environment with lots of talking (or other background noise). Consider creating a designated “quiet zone” in your library.

Allow them to move. Teens with ADHD need movement breaks sometimes. (Don’t we all?) Having students help with physical tasks like shelving books or unpacking boxes can help them burn off some of their restless energy until they’re ready to sit down again.

Consider allowing gum and/or candy, Yes, they can be sticky, but mints and gum can help people with ADHD focus. (Just be sure to set some ground rules and have wastebaskets nearby.)

Offer different types of materials. Your library undoubtedly already includes e-books, audiobooks, and video, in addition to traditional printed materials. To engage students with ADHD, you may want to add an area that allows teens with ADHD to use their hands while on a “brain break”: jigsaw puzzles, Legos — even a maker lab, if you have the space and funds.

Making your library a welcoming space for students with ADHD — especially if they’re able to see accurate, positive, and even entertaining portrayals of characters like themselves — will not only help them become better readers. It may just bring out their superpowers.

To discover more characters with ADHD (or with ADHD-like characteristics), check out this list on the SMARTS Online Executive Function Curriculum page.

For more seating ideas (and other tips), check out “17 Ways to Help Students With ADHD Concentrate.”

Meet Kirsten Lambert

Photo credit: Doug Human

Kirsten Lambert is a Chicago-based writer who tackles topics such as health care, technology, music, and parenting. She’s a regular contributor to the Chicago Reader newspaper, and her essay “Signs in Bloom” appears in the 2019 Chicago Neighborhood Guidebook, which offers snapshots of 45 Chicago neighborhoods as told by the residents of those neighborhoods. To see more of her work, check out her website (watermarkcommunications.com), connect with her on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/kirstenslambert) or follow her on Twitter: @KirstenSLambert.

The Pros & Perils of Sequels, a guest post by Alexandra Monir

We’ve all heard of it: sequel-itis. For an author, the word conjures up sweat-inducing nightmares of delivering a Book Two that doesn’t live up to the first, and for readers, it’s the memory of the disappointed sting when you finish a book you’ve been waiting forever for, only to feel “meh” at the end of it. Let me tell you, the prospect of either scenario makes sequels so nerve-wracking to publish! But on the opposite end of the spectrum, sequels can be some of the most fulfilling books to write—and read—because they allow you to return to the characters and world you’ve fallen in love with and take their story to new heights.

The Final Six (Book one)

I did quite a bit of re-reading of my favorite sequels in preparation for writing my own, The Life Below, and it helped me uncover the difference between a meh sequel and a great one.

The Life Below (Book two)

In my (humble!) opinion, it’s all about landing in that sweet spot where Book Two continues with all the ingredients that made the first book special—so as a reader, it feels like coming home—while simultaneously pushing forward with new themes, settings, and conflicts, so that the series truly grows.

The most striking example of this is the Harry Potter series. I don’t think anyone who read Sorcerer’s Stone could have predicted how layered and rich the story would become by the time Book 3 rolled around, and once Harry ages into his teens and we’re following him on a darker adventure, the growth in J.K. Rowling’s writing and storytelling is exponential! But at the same time, whenever I started a new Potter book, no matter how much heavier the themes or higher the stakes, I always felt that warm, fuzzy feeling of returning to my happy place in the Wizarding World. By keeping the world and characters familiar, we readers were able to grow with Rowling and the story, without even consciously realizing it! That is something I aspire to in my own writing, and a number of other authors have achieved it beautifully, too.

Another particularly great example is One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake. This sequel manages to be even more action-packed than Three Dark Crowns, and as much as I adored the first book, this was that magical sequel that I loved even more.The pacing moves at a thrilling speed, while also accomplishing really powerful character development. The queen who was fragile at the end of Book One is now fierce and lethal. Another queen discovers entirely new powers that upend everything she believed about herself and her destiny. The way these characters evolve is truly #SequelGoals, and the combination of their growth, the heightened stakes and the epic action are what make this sequel stand out above others.

One other instance where I enjoyed the sequel even more than the first book is Catching Fire in the Hunger Games series. By bringing us back into the Games for the Victors’ Tour, we return to a terrifyingly familiar environment—but with new characters and stakes that make it feel fresh, instead of a retread of the first book. Then there’s the deepening of the book’s relationships and Katniss Everdeen’s major leap forward as a character, transforming from a survivor into a leader, and suddenly you have a sequel that’s even better than the first.

I think an excellent Book Two is the magic ingredient that separates an okay or good series from a truly great one, and it’s no surprise the three series I mentioned above are so wildly popular, considering how fantastic their sequels are! What are some of your favorite sequels? Let me know in the comments!

Meet Alexandra Monir

Alexandra Monir is an Iranian-American author and recording artist. She is the author of the hit novel The Final Six as well as four other published young adult novels, including the bestselling time-travel romance Timeless. She currently resides in Los Angeles, California. To learn more about Alexandra, visit her online at www.alexandramonir.com.

About THE LIFE BELOW

Perfect for fans of The Illuminae Files and The 100, in this heart-racing sequel to The Final Six the teen astronauts must figure out the truth about Europa before it’s too late.

It was hard enough for Naomi to leave Leo, a fellow Final Six contestant, behind on a dying Earth. Now she doesn’t know who to trust.

The International Space Training Camp continues to dodge every question about its past failed mission, and Naomi is suspicious that not everything is as it seems on her own mission to Europa. With just one shot at Jupiter’s moon, Naomi is determined to find out if there is dangerous alien life on Europa before she and her crew get there. 

Leo, back on Earth, has been working with renegade scientist Dr. Greta Wagner, who promises to fly him to space where he can dock with Naomi’s ship. And if Wagner’s hypothesis is right, it isn’t a possibility of coming in contact with extraterrestrial life on Europa—it’s a definite, and it’s up to Leo to find and warn Naomi and the crew.

With questions piling up, everything gets more dangerous the closer that the mission gets to Europa. A storm threatens to interfere with Leo’s takeoff, a deadly entity makes itself known to the Final Six, and all questions the ISTC has been avoiding about the previous mission get answered in a terrifying way.

If the dream was to establish a new world for humans on Europa…the Final Six are about to enter a nightmare.

SEE KAREN’S REVIEW HERE

ISBN-13: 9780062658975
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/18/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years