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Why Norman, OK Matters – a look at what happens when students come forward with rape allegations

As protestors gathered on Monday, November 24th waiting to hear the findings of the grand jury in Ferguson, a much smaller but still very important protest was happening around an entirely different matter in the city of Norman, OK. You see, three teenage girls had come forward and accused some of their school mates of rape. Sadly, their fellow students took a page right out of the rape denial handbook and instead of offering them support, they began a campaign of aggressively bullying these girls. The unrelentless attacks were so traumatic, further compounding already traumatizing events, that all three of the girls ended up withdrawing from the school.

This is not a unique situation. When news of Steubenville, Ohio became public, part of the community’s reaction was to victim blame, slut shame, and harass the victim. In some cases the girls (and sometimes boys) change schools, drop out and choose to homeschool, or they finish their school years as social pariahs trying to find safe places to hide in their school building.  Sometimes, as is the case with Rehtaeh Parsons, the victims involved have ended up taking their own lives because the harassment has been so severe.

In 2013, Daily Coleman came forward as the victim of a rape in her Missouri town. Instead of support she writes that “days seemed to drag on as I watched my brother get bullied and my mom lose her job. Ultimately our house burned to the ground.” (Source: XO Jane) As a result of the intense bullying Daisy experienced her family moved, Daisy attempted to take her own life, and a targeted campaign against Daisy occurred. (Source ABC News 20/20) But Daisy remained brave and vocal, even identifying herself publicly in the press, as she sought justice (which she ultimately did not find because all sexual assault charges were dropped though her alleged assailant was found guilty of child endangerment for leaving her in the freezing cold on her front doorstep).

In Sayreville, N. J. the football season was cancelled this fall amid charges of sexual violence as a part of the football team’s hazing practices were revealed. This caused an “atmosphere of recriminations” according to sources, who go on to say “the search is on for the snitches – the kids who killed football in Sayreville.” (Source: BBC News) The victims in this case, all boys, sought justice but found instead that they had even more reason to fear for their safety. (Please note: we’ll be discussing the topic of hazing in January with authors Eric Devine, Anthony Breznican and Johsua S. Cohen)

These real-life examples show how these stories can sometimes play out. A survivor comes forward to share their story, sometimes seeking justice and sometimes just seeking support, and the very schools they go to for help end up becoming a fierce battleground, often with targeted campaigns (frequently online and in the hallways) where they get no respite from the storm of accusations against them. Suddenly the accuser finds themselves the accused and victims find themselves having to go on the defensive. Best friends turn against them. Bodies are slammed against lockers in “accidents”. Words are written on lockers. And all the while teachers and administrators will often turn their backs and pretend that nothing is happening. Adults who are entrusted with the safety of our children turn their backs while these aggressive campaigns happen.

But then this year, the tide started to turn. In July, a teen named Jada spoke out against those who harassed her and a campaign known as #IAMJADA went viral.

The students in Norman, OK could have gone silently, but they found that they had the support of their community. Members of the community began asking why the school administrators weren’t doing more to protect these girls from the bullying that was happening and a new campaign, #YESALLDAUGHTERS, broke out in the community. As a result of these protests, charges were filed against the alleged rapists and the girls have some chance at a criminal investigation, which had previously seemed unlikely.

There are several important things happening in Norman, one of which is that we are finally seeing a challenge to the ways in which students have responded to claims of rape in their school hallways. Those protestors lining the street in Norman indicate progress compared to the reactions of students just a few years ago in Steubenville. It indicates that there may be reason to hope that the way that we respond to those who come forward as victims of rape and other types of sexual violence may get more community support, as opposed to the abusive protests they have suffered in the past, compounding the emotional impact of the crimes committed against them. But one way that we can help make sure we continue to make progress in this is to talk with our teens about how we respond as a community or as a school or as an individual when someone comes forward. Christa Desir has already written a few great posts as part of The #SVYALit Projecrt on the role of first responders. But today I want to present you with some titles that would be a good background for discussing how communities – how schools and the students that fill their hallways – respond in these situations. [Read more…]

Sunday Reflections: When the mean girl lives next door

As I write this I am crying the mom cry. Before the mom cry there was that fiery anger. But now we are in the mom cry stage. The mom cry occurs when you have to stand by and watch another person rip your child’s heart to shreds and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it but wonder if you’ll be able to find all the pieces on the ground and help her put it back together again. What happens if a piece gets lost in the process? What happens if the glue won’t hold? What happens if there are cracks in the seams?

Two years ago a new girl moved into the neighborhood. At first, it seemed like such a blessing. She was over 24/7 and my Tween and her were besties. But she made new friends and decided that my daughter was no longer worthy. So for the last year I have mom cried a lot as I watch this girl lie, manipulate, talk bad about, embarrass and just break my daughter’s heart in two. To sum up, this past year has sucked.

I have worked with teenagers long enough that of course I knew these types of things can happen. I have been a moderator, a listener, an adult who has tried to broker peace between warring teenaged clans. But watching it happen to someone that I love so deeply, now that is a whole other issue. I remember once reading that someone said having a child is like having your heart walk around outside your body. I have come to understand what that means. Deciding to have a child and really loving that child, it makes you vulnerable to pains you never would have imagined.

When I was in the 5th grade, the grade my Tween is in now, there was a girl. A bully. For whatever reason, she hated me. She made mornings at the bus stop a living hell. I remember that her mother was a nurse and one day she brought a needle she stole from her home and stabbed me repeatedly with it. I became desperate. I walked long distances through unsafe terrain to school in an effort to avoid her. I walked under highway overpasses where drunk me slept. I walked in wind and rain and sleet and hail. Well, probably not so much the sleet and hail as it was Southern California. And I walked alone on mornings when the radio station reminded everyone that if you had to walk somewhere definitely walk in a large group because of a serial rapist. Sometimes I was a horrible sister and made my younger brother walk with me. That was a horrible year for me. But watching it happen to my daughter feels 1 billion times worse.

I’d like to tell you that I handle it well and practice everything that I believe, the things you hear me say here about love and kindness. But the truth is, last night I cussed up a storm on the phone to a friend and as I lay in bed trying to pray about the situation sometimes an image of their house burning down came into my head. Obviously more prayer about the situation is needed because fantasizing about her house burning down, not really supposed to be my internal dialogue. But if I was a writer, I’d write this story and just like in the actual movie Mean Girls, I would have her character be standing there asking my daughter for forgiveness as a bus drove by and just smacked into her. Man, writers must get a lot of cathartic revenge against the people that hurt them and the people they love in their books.

The thing is, I have found, is that parents always make it worse. Not my kid, they think. So they defend. They cover for their kids. They lie, to everyone including themselves. Because in all of those years working with teens, I’ve also been working with parents. Parents too are flawed. For example, please note my revenge fantasies above.

This year I have had to have a lot of difficult conversations with my child because of the mean girl that lives next door. We’ve talked about forgiveness and kindness and compassion and grace and what it means to be neighborly. We’ve talked about what it means to love others. We’ve talked about what it means to be a friend. We’ve talked about what it means to be a decent human being extending basic respect and courtesy to others. We’ve talked about standing up for yourself, controlling yourself, and choosing happiness in the midst of great struggle. And we’ll keep talking about that because in my heart, I know that is the correct response. But I’m not going to lie, today my heart is full of the gut searing pain I call the mom cry and my mind is full of powerful revenge fantasies that I would never act on but I would like to pretend that just once, a little karma comes along to tip the universe in favor of those who are cast aside like yesterdays dirty socks.

When I am at my library, I have a longstanding rule, especially in my teen programs: This is a Safe Space.  That’s my motto. I want my teens to know that when they come to my library programs, everyone gets to be safe. There are rules: Keep your hands to yourself, Don’t talk bad to or about others, Whatever you think is happening between you and another person you don’t get to bring it in here, Be kind. If only I could make my neighborhood a safe place as well. So if you need me today, I’ll be crying my mom cry tears. But let’s all do the world a favor shall we? Teach your children to be kind.

Sunday Reflections: Time to Not Be Nice

I really like Amy Poehler. I like the things that she stands for, and I adore Smart Girls at the Party so much that I’ve used it in programming and recommended it to teachers, parents, and teens. They have DIY projects and action campaigns, they highlight women in fields like science and computers, they have blogs and shows and youtube channels, and other resources for youth (including a boys’ minute)- which is wonderful. According to their site:

Smart Girls at the Party is a rapidly expanding online network and community movement. Our aim is to help young women and the young at heart with the process of cultivating their authentic selves.
We change the world by being ourselves, and being ourselves is a life long quest. Smart Girls hopes to provide some fun reference materials along the way.

 Empower girls! Show them they can be artists, scientists, astronauts, be educated and be liked ….
Which is why when this popped up onto my tumblr, my heart fell to my feet:

The internet doesn’t have to be full of mean comments. Use this badge to let others know you’re part of the goodness!

Just no.

According to webster, friendly also means:

affable, agreeable, approachable, good-natured, good-tempered, gracious, nice, sweet; clubby, convivial, folksy, gregarious, hospitable, sociable, social; jolly, jovial, merry; extroverted (also extraverted), outgoing; brotherly, fraternal, sisterly; close, familiar, intimate; adoring, affectionate, devoted, fond, lovesome, loving, tender, tenderhearted

I completely agree with the factual part. And to an extent I can get behind the intent of the friendly. Don’t lie, don’t spread rumors, don’t slut-shame, don’t verbally or emotionally harass anyone, and don’t bully anyone. There have been too many deaths over online harassment- and I mean actual online harassment, not what some will claim as harassment to get attention.


No. NO.

Girls (and women) do not need to be ‘friendly’ on the internet. We need to be intelligent, coherent, sound, passionate, and LOUD in our voices, our passions, and for our beliefs and for our rights. We need to stand up for the right to control our bodies, no matter whether it is to have children or not, no matter whether it is to have sex or not, and to have the right to choose WHEN and WHERE that encounter is. We need to be able to have the voice to say NO when we don’t want something, no matter if it’s a hug, a glance, someone calling us honey or sweetheart, or even a slice of cheese on a hamburger.

The internet gives people an arena in which to unleash themselves, and also the chance to be the most evil they can possibly be with the slimmest chance they will get caught. It’s all about anonymity, and sometimes the nastier people can be, the better the audience likes it and the more hits things will get. To me, it can be similar to the Roman Gladiator fights- people hiding behind stage names, fighting tooth and nail, but with words that can hurt more than physical blows.

We as a culture need to stand up to internet bullying, and not be “friendly” when people attack.  Google about the death threats that have happened against women on Twitter, slut-shaming, and Facebook attacks that have led to suicide, if you want further evidence. 

“Friendly” has passive connotations, and puts the onus on the me (as a member of the group of girls, in this case) to be the one backing down and taking things without standing up for myself- thereby losing my voice and my options.

No. NO.

There is a time and a place for nice. Someone calling names for the emotional response is one. Someone being an idiot is another. Like Patrick Swayze says in Road House (warning, not work appropriate language ahead):

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTh5JzRziHE?rel=0]

However, there is a time to not be nice. When things cross the line include:

I was the “nice and friendly” girl growing up. I was shy, and part of it was the way I was raised. Even though I couldn’t stand mustard, and onions made me sick, if we went through McDonald’s we got the hamburgers as-made, and I had to try to pick off the onions and grimace and bear the mustard/ketchup goop. We didn’t have much, and what we got had to last and be enjoyed- if you didn’t like it or complained, you didn’t get it, and it was remembered that you didn’t like it, and held against you.  Being “nice and friendly” was essentially a defense against punishment.

Through college I was the “nice and friendly” girl, one of the few in my undergrad class for aeronautical engineering. And I was bullied and harassed, by peers for being overweight, by teachers who said women weren’t needed as astronautical engineers because we didn’t have the smarts, by teaching assistants and professors who wouldn’t help during office hours because I was just going to be married and popping out kids before the ink was dry on my degree. I didn’t speak up, because that wasn’t what “nice and friendly” did- that was what aggressive did. (On the bright side, I ended up in the field I was meant for, but I still have issues dating back to those days).

People’s response when I tell them some of my college stories

I was the “nice and friendly” one in my first few jobs, and was given a lower starting pay than guys who had less experience but were put in the same position I was in, because they spoke up and were aggressive about negotiations. I have been passed over for raises and increases in pay because I was “nice” and didn’t question authority, and when I did, I did it in “friendly” and “polite” ways.

I have been verbally harassed at professional conferences because I was “friendly” and “polite” and “nice.” When I reported it, I was told that since I was “friendly” and didn’t “assert myself but removed myself from the area after a brief time” that the harasser couldn’t understand that their actions were wrong. Somehow, by being “nice” I was in the wrong by not educating my harassers.

I get where Smart Girls is going, but I think they’re going about it the wrong way. We need to stand up to the bullies, not be the friendly ones. We need to be scrappy, and aggressive, feisty, and spunky, and take over THOSE connotations and make THEM the positives that we want to see.

Because friendly isn’t getting us anywhere.

– Christie

See also: It’s time to stop telling girls to be nice 
Should we stop telling girls to be nice?

Flashback 1969(ish): Twerp by Mark Goldblatt and If I Ever Get Out of Here Alive by Eric L. Gansworth

I just happened to read 2 books that are set in the 1960s and 1970s for the MG set and they were both really good.  Let me take a moment to tell you about them.  By the way, even though these books were not on my list, this officially puts me past the read 5 Historical Fiction books this year personal challenge I set for myself, right? I’m going with yes.

Twerp by Mark Goldblatt

Technically, the tween and I listened to this book in the car as an audio book.  Here’s what you need to know: we laughed out loud in several places, at another the Tween *literally* (real literally, not that new fangled figuratively crap they say it means now) was sitting on the edge of her seat, and in the end – we were both gut-wrenched and sobbing. Again, literally. That ending packs a seriously powerful wallop to the gut.

Twerp is the story of Julian, who is writing in his journal for his English class.  He is supposed to be writing about that thing that happened with Danley (whose name is really Stanley).  But he goes so far out of his way to avoid talking about what happened that he writes about everything but that – until the last moment.  In it he tells the story of his 6th grade year . . . the triumphs (his first date), the tragedies (again, his first date), and everything in between.

This is such a super, amazing, really good book.  It has that element of suspense, because you want to know what happened to Danley.  But the stories building up to it are just your basic stories of childhood: funny, warm, touching, cringe inducing.  If you are old enough to remember the show The Wonder Years, you have an idea of what this book is like.  The tween’s favorite story is about the boy who was walking on the fence and fell off – straddling the fence.  And yes, they say balls. (And although this is completely MG accessible, they also say boner. I only point that out because some people got really upset when The Higher Power of Lucky said scrotum.  To me, it was not an issue because this is in fact how middle school and high school boys talk.)

In the end, Twerp is also a story about bullying.  The thing is, Julian is not a bad kid.  He just sometimes makes really bad decisions.  Julian has a fantastic voice, a great supporting cast of characters (this is a great story of friendship), and this is just a charming story.  I loved listening to it and highly recommend the audio book.

If I Ever Get Out of Here Alive by Eric Gansworth

Lewis “Shoe” Blake lives on the Tuscarora Indian reservation in the year 1975.  He has few to no friends, until George shows up and he doesn’t know that he isn’t supposed to shun the reservation kids.  The two become friends, but they each have their secrets.  Lewis will go to great lengths to hide how poor his family is, but people like the bully Evan make it hard as he goes out of his way to target Lewis.  And yes, this is also a book about bullying.  But it is also a good one.

So, there are a few really great things about this book that I want to make sure you know about.

1)  This is such a spot on depiction of tweens and teens living in poverty.  The lengths that Lewis go through to hide this fact are just soul crushing.  There is a scene where George’s dad is bringing Lewis home and his family sits inside with the lights off so that he can’t actually see what the house looks like.  If this scene doesn’t make your heart grow 3 sizes for kids living in poverty then it is most likely true that you do not in fact have a heart.

2)  This is also a spot on depiction of what it is like to be a military family.  George’s family is a military family, as are a couple of other kids in the school.  There is a lot of talk about not putting down roots and being ready to pack on a moments notice because you never know when you are going to get orders to move somewhere else.  I was a military kid; we moved every 3 years.  This part of the story was an authentic depiction and I thought it was a nice inclusion because I haven’t often seen it in a lot of our MG or YA lit.

3) Lewis is a huge Beatles, Paul McCartney, Wings fan and I loved the inclusion of the music throughout the book.  The book title and each chapter title are somehow derived from McCartney songs.  It is a powerful story about friendship and the power of music: to move you, to bond you, to inspire you.

Like Twerp, If I Ever Get Out of Here is a book about bullying.  With Twerp, if you don’t know much about the story, you don’t realize it is about bullying until the very end.  There are no questions about that in If I Ever Get Out of Here.  But it is more than bullying, it is about discrimination and racism and the hatred that can live in our hearts for people that our different than us. Gansworth himself grew up on the Tuscarora reservation and Cynthia Leitich Smith endorses it (“A heart-healing, mocs-on-the-ground story of music, family and friendship.” — Cynthia Leitich Smith, author of TANTALIZE and RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME), which carries a huge amount of weight in my eyes.  This is an important and accessible look into Native American life for those who are not yet ready to read The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.

I think that both of these titles are MUST READS for everyone.  They are really good books, moving stories, and important reminders that we really should just be nicer to one another. These are sincere, heartfelt glimpses into our past, both the good and the bad; And in the case of If I Ever Get Out of Here, it is an important reminder of the racism and classicism that can divide us if we let it.  They also both have really strong, well developed voices.

Twerp by Mark Goldbatt.  Published in May 2013 by Random House.  ISBN:
9780375971426.  Also available on audio.

If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric L. Gansworth.  Published in July 2013 by Arthur A. Levine Books. ISBN: 9780545417303

Also, check out this Random House feature on Kids and Bullying: Audiobooks for Conversation   

More About Bullying on TLT:
Join the Fight Against Bullying
A Letter to Teens About Bullying
Quotable Ra: Stop Bullying. Period.
When is a Prank More Than Just a Prank?

Book Review: Until it Hurts to Stop by Jennifer R. Hubbard


If you follow me on Twitter, you know that when people start talking about romance I ask time and time again: Where are the books where a boy and a girl are friends and slowly, sweetly realize one day that they are in love?  THIS.  This is that book.  For that fact alone this book gets ALL THE STARS.


Until It Hurts to Stop by Jennifer R. Hubbard takes an interesting look at bullying through the eyes of Maggie.  Maggie was bullied relentlessly in middle school by Raleigh Barringer.  Although Raleigh moves away, the after effects still haunt Maggie in the ways she sees herself and in the way she is always on guard, waiting for some secret attack.  And then, the worst thing ever happens: Raleigh moves back.

Maggie has two best friends: Nick and Sylvie.  Although Maggie isn’t always a great friend to Sylvie (she often becomes engrossed in her own problems and doesn’t recognize things going on in Sylvie’s life), this is on the whole a good look at friendships of various sorts.

So, here are a few things I loved about Until it Hurts to Stop:

1)  The relationship between Nick and Maggie.  They are great friends and when that friendship is strained, they really try and find ways to work through it.  It is such a fantastic relationship, loved it.

2) Maggie is haunted and struggles with a lot of self-esteem issues, but she is in many ways authentically herself and is not your typical YA novel girl.  She is not fashion oriented, she is not a Queen Bee or a Wannabe, and – my favorite – she is very outdoorsy and into things like hiking.  A girl who hikes – this makes me happy in the way it represents a different (and under-represented) teen girl.

3) At some point before we ever meet Sylvia, she has already wrestled with her sexuality and is very comfortably out and in a committed relationship with another girl which the people in her life are very accepting of.  There is no angst, no wrestling, no hand wringing.  Just a gay girl at peace with her sexuality.

4) This is truly an interesting perspective on bullying because no bullying happens in the book, but the effects of it are very clearly and very emotionally depicted.

5) This is really a clean, straightforward read.  It’s a book you can put into the hands of any patron and not have to worry about a parent coming back to you and challenging the book.  I know that I often have parents that want “clean” reads and this fits the bill.  There is an instance where Maggie wonders if Nick has given his virginity to the girl he is dating, but it is not graphic in any way.

I thought the book was kind of a slow start (but then I read a lot of dystopian, thrillers, etc. and they always have the big open), but once you get into the rhythm of the story I really connected with the characters and was rooting for Maggie and Nick.  It’s almost an updated take on Anne of Green Gables in pacing and its look at friendships, although Maggie lacks Anne’s confidence throughout most of the book.  Definitely recommended, this is a slow but beautiful unfolding of a young girl learning to love herself and the life she is living despite the heartache of the past.  Pair this with Guitar Notes by Mary Amato and The Sweetest Thing by Christina Mandelski for a list of clean, sweet contemporary looks at love.  Many people will look at this as a contemporary tale about bullying, but I view it more as a moving coming of age love story for a teen that is haunted by the bullying of her past.  3.5 out of 5 stars.

Until it Stops to Hurt by Jennifer R. Hubbard.  Viking press, September 2013.  ISBN: 978-0-670-7852909

Sunday Reflections: How Twitter is teaching us not to judge

When Eleanor from Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, with her out of control curly red hair and poor, holey clothes covered in scraps of cloth, first steps on the bust at her new school, the teens immediately judge her and deem her unworthy.  They then go on to torment and bully her.  When Meg shows up at her 6th school in one year in The Rules for Disappearing by Ashley Elston, her hair newly dyed and cut in an unflattering way, she too is judged by many to be unworthy and thus tormented.  It is, in fact, an all too common scenario in our schools.  Those who are deemed different, for whatever reason, are cast out or, worse, bullied.

Twitter, however, is a different universe.  On Twitter, you often get to know a person (in a way) before you know what they look like.  Yes, you have an Avatar, but a lot of the time it is not a self portrait but a book cover, your dog, a fainting goat.  You can talk to someone over and over again before you have any idea what they look like.  It removes outward appearances from the first, second, and even third impressions.  Is Twitter teaching us not to judge a person by the way they look?

I follow very few “famous” people on Twitter (Joss Whedon, Nathan Fillion, Felicia Day and Will Wheaton).  I hang out on Twitter because it has a very rich book and library community.  We talk about books, the issues in books, library issues and programming.  A lot of the people I follow either have their library building, their blog logos or their book covers as their bio/avatar pic.  I often have no idea what these people look like, but it doesn’t matter because we have learned that we share a passion for the same things, have similar politics sometimes (or not but we can handle it as adults), and really, we just want to talk about books.

There are many things to laud about Twitter, and some definite things to question, but I can’t help but wonder what it would be like in the lives of our teens if we could remove that knee jerk need to judge other based on their outer appearance.  That element has been removed from Twitter and I think it would be an interesting social experiment to see how kids would respond in the schools.

One of my Twitter pics.  This is not me.

To some extent, school uniforms are an attempt to minimize this issue.  My Tween goes to a school with uniforms, has for the past 2 years, and I can see ways in which it has been effective in leveling the playing field.  But the truth is, you can still mark your social status by the shoes you wear, the accessories you choose, or by the backpack you carry, for example.  And of course, people like Eleanor could never hid their hair behind a school uniform.  Nor do they cover disabilities.

But what if before a new student came to a school or class we read a letter of introduction out loud to the class, a version of Twitter if you will, allowing students to hear personality before seeing a teen.  Would that change their perception and welcoming of a new student?  Would that make them more open to give someone a chance?

My current Twitter pic/avatar.  This is me.

And let’s not pretend that Twitter is a level playing field, because it is not.  After a while on Twitter you learn that you must develop a persona, it is a type of branding.  There is a greater propensity for witty and snarky on Twitter. But f you spend enough time on Twitter, you can’t help but let real moments of truth, real glimpses of you, bleed through the social feed.  You will say that you are sick and let yourself be vulnerable, there will be an issue that is just to important to you to not speak your mind, you will complain about your family or your friends, you will talk about what your eating.  And of course, when we talk about the books we love – or hate – we are revealing parts of ourselves.  So while Twitter is not an authentic portrait of self, it is also not a complete misrepresentation of self (in most cases).  This is true when forming any new relationship.  When I was dating my husband, he presented his best persona and I did the same.  It was over time that we began to see each other in a variety of situations and got to authentically know each other.  Twitter is like the early stages of any relationship, you are showing a side of yourself, but not the whole story.  However, it is still creating a social phenomenon where people are forming relationships based on personality and interests first, often without even knowing what the other person truly looks like.

I think it would be an interesting experiment for a class to create Twitter accounts without actual pictures.  Have each student tweet for a specified period of time.  Then, see if the students can determine who each Twitter handle is.  Some of the interesting discussions we could have would be:

Were the students easily able to identify each of their classmates based on their words, tone, interests, etc. without a picture?  Were they surprised by any, why or why not?

Did your time spent with your classmates on Twitter change your perceptions of any of your classmates?

Did you feel more or less like you could be yourself when the concern over physical appearance and representation is removed?

Some of the people I have met have turned into genuine, IRL friends.  In fact, most of the people who work with me on this blog I met via the Internet, have now met and spend time with in real life, and I love them dearly.  I don’t know that some of them would have given me a chance if they would have seen more before they got to know me.  Not because they are shallow and mean spirited people, but because we are enculturated in certain ways.  I believe that perhaps Twitter is changing the culture.  Sometimes for good.

Book Review: Permanent Record by Leslie Stella

She’s peeling what’s left of some green nail polish off her pinkie. She says, “Bud, I’m still worried. You know, about that letter. That douche bag Dylan was telling his idiot friends that you were a weirdo- I heard him in History. And what about Trevor? He was whispering with his little pack of panting dogs that he thinks you wrote it, and you’re trying to mess with the paper because you’re jealous of him.”

“You don’t think I really wrote it, do you?” I ask.

“You know I don’t, but listen: you don’t want these guys on your bad side. They can make life really unpleasant for people they don’t like.”

“Unpleasant?” I laugh. It’s a harsh, barking sound. “Unpleasant? Don’t forget who you’re talking to, Nikki.”
“I know it was bad at Sullivan, but these guys can be ruthless.”

Then it comes.

Not the panic attack. It’s the rage, and it’s on slow burn.

“Ruthless,” I say, “is being cracked in the face with a cafeteria tray, and the teachers on patrol don’t notice because they’re busy calling the riot police to break up a gang fight. Ruthless is being beaten with a golf club on a public sidewalk underneath the Safe School Zone sign. Ruthless is seeing towelhead and sand nigger Sharpied on your locker. Ruthless is watching am ambulance cart away a dead fourteen-year-old as you wait for the bus.” I tell her, “I can handle Magnificat’s brand of ruthless.”

She watches me. Those eyes are an astounding shade of green, and I have to turn away.
“All that?” she asks. “All that happened . . . to you?”

“To me.”

Sixteen-year-old Badi Hessamizadeh has been through everything: trying to find himself in a world that hates his heritage, dealing with depression and panic attacks, and bullying that goes far over into abuse. When he’s pulled from his public school and placed into Magnificat Academy under a new Americanized name, he tries to take things slow but is placed into the role of social outcast and starts to pull small acts of resistance to deal with the changes.  When strange letters to the editor of the school newspaper appear hinting at tragedy for the school, all eyes shift to the newcomer, and while Badi and his friend Nikki try to clear his name and find the real culprit, Badi’s situation starts spiraling out of control. 

Permanent Record tells the story through Badi/Bud’s voice, and you have to realize that he’s an unreliable narrator, but his story is so gripping and real to anyone who knows what huge high schools can be like.  Horrible abuse (too much to call bullying) happened to Badi at his old school culminating in his striking back (revealed later in the book) and Badi was withdrawn, much to the shame of his family.  His second chance is the private Magnificat Academy- as Bud Hess.  Yet it’s obvious to Badi from the start it’s a no win situation: his shoes are wrong, as is his backback; he sits at the reject table; he doesn’t have a sport. Finally joining the newspaper after his father demands he have a school activity, he finds two friends- Nikki and Reggie.  And as soon as Badi/Bud shows up, mysterious letters to the editor start appearing, all being attributed by the student body as being written by him.  And all hinting at all the things going wrong at the school, and horrible things that will happen if things can’t be fixed. The mystery, added to Badi/Bud’s already complex character, make this a gripping novel. 4 out of 5 stars.  As of March 16, 2013, Goodreads has Permanent Record listed as 4.25 stars. 

NOTE: There is strong language, some graphic violence, and reference to rape in this book.  

I tore through this book, couldn’t put it down. Badi (I hate to think of him as Bud) and his whole story really got to me: I wanted to know WHY he was released from the previous school, and WHAT had happened to make it so bad. I wanted to know HOW he was going to cope/not cope at his new school, and then when the mysterious notes started cropping up that we knew were not Badi I had to know WHO they were written by.  And I loved the fact that I had no clue who was doing it- I had guesses, and was totally wrong, which is wonderful (it’s like a Moffat Sherlock episode!).  

What I adored about this book is that it didn’t tone down the abuse (and it IS abuse- if this happened outside of an educational setting to an adult in a workplace there would be arrests) that Badi suffered at his first school. Nor did it tone down the situation at his new school: the all-out push for sports against everything else (currently happening in a host of areas across the country in the wake of budget cuts), the uselessness of the teacher, the reaction when he refuses to sell the chocolate. 

At first his revenges are small, and easy. He refuses to sell the school chocolates. He refuses to blend in. Then as he shares what happened to him at his old school, he starts standing up for himself at his new school, and things start snowballing.  On a second read, I understand why he gets more manic/ragey (huge spoiler so I won’t go into it but definitely worth another read) but I can’t help but wonder if someone should have noticed his actions at the climax sooner. The fact that he realized the actions were wrong, and changes them at the last minute makes for a stronger ending. I have hope for Badi.

Another faction that I loved was his family interaction and the shame that he’s made to feel for having depression and panic attacks.  Part of it is his cultural heritage, but part of it is also the stigma we as a society have against depression. This is so extremely painful it hurts, and it’s all to real for anyone who has mental illness of any type.  When you have depression and/or panic attacks, it’s a double stigma, because in life everyone is supposed to be happy and be able to deal with everything, and when you’re not, take a pill and get off the couch. It doesn’t work that way, and add in the fact that you’re shaming the family as well as dealing with your own issues is a double whammy. 

I thought it was a really well written and thought out book, and would not have any hesitation recommended it to my older teens.

MG Review: The Odd Squad: Bully Bait by Michael Fry (reviewed by tween reviewer Kicky)

Nick is the shortest seventh-grader in the history of the world (he’s pretty sure), doesn’t fit in with any groups or clubs (who needs ’em?), and spends more time inside than outside his locker (they’re roomier than you’d think). 

Things only get worse when a well-intentioned guidance counselor forces Nick to join the school’s lamest club–along with fellow misfits Molly and Karl–in her quest to cure all three of their “peer allergies.” What starts off as a reluctant band of hopeless oddballs morphs into an effective and empowered team ready to face whatever middle school throws at them, including bullies, awkward romance, zany adults, and a brave new world of surprising friendships. 

Renowned cartoonist Michael Fry brings an unforgettable cast of characters to life in an illustrated novel brimming with honesty, humor, and heart.
  (Synopsis from Goodreads)

 The Odd Squad: Bully Bait by Michael Fry. Published 2/12/2013 by Disney Hyperion. ISBN: 9781423169246

What Kicky has to say:

Karl, Molly and Nick join the safety patrol at school to stop a bully named Roy from picking on them.  But Roy has a secret that he doesn’t want anyone to know, which makes the safety patrol even more curious.

Describe the book in 3 words:
Funny.  Teaches life lessons. Teaches friendship.

What stood out to you in this book?
Some people aren’t what they seem because once you get to know them, they become nicer to you.

What did you think of the characters?
I thought that they had interesting personalities that were different. They were different because Molly was sort of a tall, crazy person who didn’t like to be called names.  Karl is a bit of a chubby, scared guy who just goes along with whatever anybody else says.  Nick is short and he likes to be different by not doing what other people say but doing what he wants to do.  And Roy, he is a mean person but in the end he turns out to be really sweet.

Do you recommend it?
This is a book I recommend because it had many interesting facts about bullying. Also, because it was full of very funny things like stealing stuffed pigs .Plus, it included very helpful life lessons. I loved it and everyone should read it.

Who Would Like this Book?
People who liked the Diary of a Wimpy Kid and people who have an active imagination.

What I Have to Say:

It was interesting not only as a librarian, but as a mom to watch my daughter read this book.  She starts a lot of books but finishes very few of them.  She is supposed to read 10 pages a night for school, her dad and I make her read at least 20, after which she often stops. The first night she sat down to read The Odd Squad she read the first 47 pages.  The next night she invited a friend to spend the night and then proceeded to ignore said friend while she finished reading the book.  Fear not, that friend was none other than Christie, my co-blogger, so we were happy to let her read.  At one point when I looked over at her reading she had the biggest smile on her face.  Twee readers who like comedy and comic drawings with their books will love this one.  your Diary of a Wimpy Kid readers will also love this book. Highly recommended.

Michael Fry is a cartoonist and there are fun drawings throughout the book, which is a popular feature in today’s MG lit.

Book Review: Speechless by Hannah Harrington (by Christie G)

Speechless by Hannah Harrington
Published August 2012 by HarlequinTeen
ISBN 9780373210527
Speechless was originally reviewed by Christie G. on September 7, 2012.  Because it has such an important and powerful message, we are re-running the review today as part of Harlequin Teen week.

“Yea, I can do this.  I can play dumb like Kristen said.  No one has to hear it from me.  I can stay quiet, even if no one else steps forward.  Even if it means Warren and Joey get away with this.  Even if Noah never wakes up.

What if he doesn’t?  And what if no one points the finger at Warren and Joey?  If that happens, can I really live with myself?”
from Speechless, by Hannah Harrington

Love is Louder Than Words
find out more about this anti-bullying movement

Speechless, by Hannah Harrington, is a unique viewpoint in the world of bullying books, in that you see the world through the eyes of the instigator.  Chelsea is the sixteen year old sidekick to the queen bee of the school.  At a New Year’s party she snuck out to, where she is throwing-up drunk, she outs Noah during the party, and he is beaten nearly to death by two of the school’s star players.  After deciding to speak up about the incident and letting first her parents and then the police know, Chelsea turns the punishment inward by not speaking, using only scribbled messages to communicate. 

As her life implodes, Chelsea takes her turn on the bullying end from the school.  Her previous friends deface her locker, her best friend spreads rumors and threats about her, and even a teacher gets into the act at the start by giving her detention daily in order to break her of the silent treatment.  And we learn that things weren’t always perfect in the social circle- Chelsea was subtly bullied by Kristen, the queen bee, into what clothes to buy (Why is the color pink in here?  I don’t like the color pink.  I don’t look good in the color pink.  But a third of my closet is devoted to pink sweaters and blouses and skirts.  All because Kristen always insisted it was “my color” p79), what activities to join, what classes to take, what to think, what to do.  Freed from her previous life, Chelsea can learn to become herself again, and start to do what feels right for her.
Part of that is finding new friends.  Asha and Sam and Dex would never have been part of her previous life, but fit right in the new world Chelsea is creating for herself.  When Chelsea finally breaks her silence, it’s worth it.
I was really struck by how true the voices were throughout the book.  I know most of these kids- they’ve passed through my library doors at one time or another.  Speechless tackles the subject of bullying without being fake or preachy, and it doesn’t gloss over the consequences of what happens to anyone- Chelsea and what happens to her for speaking out, Noah and the beating, the legal system and how they deal with Warren and Joey and hate crimes like these.  The characters are complex and well written, with back stories that you want to know more about, and even want to read a second book about. 
Speechless is perfect for those who want more books like Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak or Sarah Dressen’s works.
Have you read Speechless?  Share what you think in the comments!
Read more about bullying here at TLT:
Join the Fight Against Bullying
A Letter to Teens About Bullying
Quotable Ra: Stop Bullying. Period.

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What’s the (Short) Story?

In my review of The Curiosities, I mention that short stories seem to be a hard sell to teens.  Most often, they are also a mixed bag; I have yet to come across a short story collection where I thought every story was a divine work of inspiration (although The Curiosities comes close).  But here are 5 short story collections that I think are must have for teens and the libraries that serve them . . .

Steampunk Poe
They are the original works of Poe with Steampunk illustrations.  You can never go wrong with Poe.

Although there are some good stories about being bullied, standing up to bullies, etc., the reason this book is a must have is for the short story How Auto-Tune Saved My Life, a story that reminds us that sometimes adults in positions of power can be bullies.  This is a must read for all teachers.

Dear Teen Me
It’s such a unique concept and a great look at life as a teenager, and an important reminder that most of us make it out alive and relatively unscathed.

The Letter Q: Queer writers notes to their younger selves
David Levithan, Malinda Lo and more talk about growing up, coming out and surviving as they learned to understand their sexuality and embrace who they are.

And of course, The Curiosities

Now it’s your turn. What short story collections are on your must have list and why?