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The Next #SVYALit Project Google Hangout: It’s the End of the World as We Know It

For the next #SVYALit Project Google Hangout On Air, we’re going to look at what happens when the world falls apart: post apocalyptic and dystopian fiction. 

It’s the End of the World as We Know It, what we can learn about current issues surrounding sexual violence through dystopian/post apocalyptic fiction

Date:September 24th (Noon Eastern)

Confirmed: Mindy McGinnis (NOT A DROP TO DRINK), Ilsa J. Bick (ASHES), and Elizabeth Fama (PLUS ONE)

Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

In the near future, water is scarce. Some people will do anything to get it.  And some people will do anything to protect what little they have.  Lynn has never known a world in the before, all she knows is now.  She is used to living with her mom and protecting their water.  But there are wisps of smoke in the horizon.  People are coming.  Is Lynn ready? The companion novel, In a Handful of Dust, will be released in October 2014.

Ashes by Ilsa. J. Bick

“An electromagnetic pulse flashes across the sky, destroying every  electronic device, wiping out every computerized system, and killing billions.

Alex hiked into the woods to say good-bye to her dead parents and her personal demons. Now desperate to find out what happened after the pulse crushes her to the ground, Alex meets up with Tom—a young soldier—and Ellie, a girl whose grandfather was killed by the EMP.

For this improvised family and the others who are spared, it’s now a question of who can be trusted and who is no longer human.” (Publisher’s Summary)

Ashes is the first book in a trilogy. Book two is Shadows and book 3 is Monsters.

Plus One by Elizabeth Fama

After the deadly flu pandemic in the early 1900s, the population was divided into two groups: those who are permitted to walk around during the day and those who are forced to live their life only by night. It began as a temporary measure to help minimize contact between large groups and stop the transmission of the flu, but it has now evolved into a caste system. Sol is a Smudge, one of those forced to work at night and sleep by day. But in one last attempt to do something for her family, she plots to kidnap a baby – for just a moment – so that her dying grandfather can see his last born relative, a Ray, before he dies.

Sexual Violence in YA Lit, the project

It began with Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson many years ago. This book really touched me, as it has readers around the world.  And it made me start thinking a lot about how we can use literature to talk with teens about really tough topics; about things like recognizing the signs so that you can ask for help, about the need for empathy, about the ways in which our society tends to blame victims instead of rapists . . . Books can open eyes, bring healing, and start conversations.

Throughout my years working with teens, I have met many tweens and teens that have been the victims of sexual violence.  In fact, current statistics indicate that by the time they are 18 years old 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys will be the victim of some type of sexual violence.

So I knew I wanted to do more.  For the last 3 years I have been working behind the scenes trying to find a way to get this project off of the ground.  Then I had a brainstorm and invited authors Christa Desir, Carrie Mesrobian and Trish Doller to have a virtual panel on the topic and they graciously agreed.  We had an awesome conversation and got such a positive response that we decided to continue the project. Here are the details. Keep this page bookmarked.

Goals: To discuss sexual violence in the lives of teens and in ya literature on a bimonthly basis; raise awareness of the issues and titles that can be used to discuss the topics with teens; give librarians, educators and parents the tools to evaluate and discuss these topics in the lives of teens; promote teen reading and literature


All virtual panels will be Google Hangouts on Air at Noon Eastern time.  We will post URLs to watch as we get closer to each date.  Afterwards we will post the video recordings and write recaps.  Everything will be linked back to here for your convenience.  We recommend that you read the books each month if you can, but we will be discussing the issues and additional titles as well.  Here’s a more detailed look at the titles.

Contemporary Debuts, dealing with sexual violence

Date: March 26th
Moderator: Carrie Mesrobian
Confirmed Guests: Stephanie Kuehn (CHARM AND STRANGE), Rachele Alpine (CANARY), and Brendan Kiely (THE GOSPEL OF WINTER)
Recap and Video of the second panel discussing Charm & Strange, Canary, and The Gospel of Winter

Consent Positive YA Lit: Looking at positive depictions of healthy relationships and consent in YA literature
Date: May 21st
Moderator(s): Christa Desir, Carrie Mesrobian, Karen Jensen
Confirmed: Courtney Stevens (FAKING NORMAL), Brandy Colbert (POINTE)
Recap and Video of the third panel discussing Pointe and Faking Normal  

When Past Meets Present, a look at the issues in terms of historical fiction and what we can learn from the past

Date: July 30th
Moderator: Christa Desir
Confirmed: Jenn McGowan (MAID OF SECRETS/MAID OF DECEPTION, Katherine Longshore (GILT), Sharon Biggs Waller (A MAD, WICKED FOLLY)

It’s the End of the World as We Know It, what we can learn about current issues surrounding sexual violence through dystopian/post apocalyptic fiction

Date:September 24th
Confirmed: Mindy McGinnis (NOT A DROP TO DRINK), Ilsa J. Bick (ASHES), and Elizabeth Fama (PLUS ONE)

Bringing it Back to Contemporary Fiction: An overview of 2014 titles and a look ahead at 2015
Date: November 19th

Confirmed Guests: A. S. King (forthcoming 2014 and 2015 title), Christa Desir, Carrie Mesrobian

Hashtag: #SVYALit

SVYALit Tumblr

More on Sexual Violence and YA Lit at TLT:

What It’s Like for a Girl: How Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama made me think about the politics of sexuality in the life of girls

Sexual Assault Awareness Month, talking to teens about consent and rape part 1 and part 2

Should there be sex in YA books? 

Plan B: What Youth Advocates Need to Know 

Because No Always Mean No, a list of books dealing with sexual assault

Who Will Save You? Boundaries, Rescue and the Role of Adults in YA Lit.  A look at consent and respecting boundaries in relationships outside of just sex. 

Incest, the last taboo 

This is What Consent Looks Like

Street Harassment

That Time Matt Smith Perpetuated Street Harassment Culture at Comic Con

An Anonymous Letter to Those Who Would Ban Eleanor and Park

Take 5: Difficult books on an important topic (sexual violence) 
The Curios Case of the Kissing Doctor and Consent 

Book Review: The Gospel of Winter by Brendan Kiely

Take 5: Sexual Violence in the Life of Boys

A BIG list of titles on the TLT Tumblr

Book Review: Monsters by Ilsa J. Bick

A bolt of bright yellow light sprang from the dark. Nearly blinded by the glare, Alex squinted and would have put a hand up if she hadn’t needed both to hang on. Belatedly, she realized that the light must be for her. The Changed saw very well in the dark. She saw Wolf, his legs braced against rock, dangling from some kind of crude rope harness looped around both thighs.

Sniffed me out, just like I caught his scent earlier this morning. Came to get me. Had he tracked them all along? Possibly. The Changed followed a route, kept to a pattern. So maybe Wolf had bided his time, waiting to see if she was still alive, then planned a way to get her out. Before the Zap, when Wolf was Simon Yeager and not a monster, maybe he and his friends had done a lot of rock climbing, exploring all the ins and outs of the Rule mine.

Then she remembered: Tom. Her heart stuttered. Tom had been up there. He’d called to her, and then she’d heard shots. “Did you kill him?” She was so afraid for Tom she thought her chest would break. Was Tom lying dead in the snow because of her? “If you killed him, if you hurt him . . .”

Wolf said nothing. He couldn’t. But now that he was so close, she smelled something else in all that mist and shadow: a scent sweet and . . gentle, a light perfume of lilacs and honeysuckle. Her dad’s face suddenly flickered in a quick flashbulb of memory: Jump to me, sweetheart.
“Safe.” The word slipped off her tongue. For an instant, where she was, what was happening, ceased to matter. It was as if she and Wolf had slipped into a private, silent, well-lit room built only for them. And not only safe. . . “Home,” she whispered. “Family?”

The scent deepened. His face smoothed, and for a second, there was the ghost of Chris- the lips she had kissed, the angles and planes of a face her fingers knew- and she felt her monster suddenly reach; was aware of an ache and a fiery burn that was need and desire flowing like lava through her veins.

The monster knows Wolf. This was new, as was the hard throb in her neck and the claw of something so close to raw, red yearning that she felt the rake of it across her chest. What the hell was going on? The times her mind had sidestepped from her to end up behind the eyes of the Changed- Spider, Leopard, Wolf- had been few, and mainly in response to their intense emotion, not hers. Long ago, Kincaid wondered if her tumor was reorganizing, the monster becoming something separate and distinct from her. God, and now it has. The monster wants Wolf.

“No, I’m in control,” she ground out, no longer sure whether she spoke to the monster or Wolf. She clung to the rock. “I’m Alex. I’m not a mon-“


A yelp bulleted from her mouth. The sound, somewhere to her left, had been enormous. At first, Alex thought she saw more water, a wide stream running a jagged dark course over stone. But then there were more snaps and cracks, the crisp sounds like thick ice over a deep lake in the dead of winter, because ice is restless, never still, always in flux, the stress building and building to the breaking point. Before her eyes, that jagged seam became a black lightning bolt, growing wider and darker and longer . . . Water still swirled around her waist, but now she also detected an insidious tug, much stronger than before.

From above came a hard bang and a thunk as rocks ricocheted and rebounded before slamming down in a stony fusillade. Crack! The rock wall squealed, singing with the strain.Crack-CRACK!

And that was when the Uzi actually moved.

Terror blazed through her veins. Almost without thinking, she sprang, her right hand splayed in a grab. If her ankle shrieked, she didn’t feel it. All she saw were Wolf’s hands, the one knotted in her parka and the other, gloved, clinging to the taut snake of rope that would have to be strong enough to hold them both. She felt his wrist sock into her palm, and then she was swinging a half-assed trapeze move as Wolf whipped her, hard and fast, like a stone in a bolo, trying to fold her against his chest. He might have done it, too. He had the strength she lacked, and he was solidly anchored besides. But then the Uzi shifted again, a sharp jolt down that knocked the breath from her chest.

She missed, dropping as the rock crumbled beneath her feet. Skating away, the Uzi was swept in a sudden tidal surge into this new and ever-expanding fissure, one that had grown so wide it was a sideways grin and then a toothless leer and then a black scream that matcher her own.
In the next instant, the wall shattered and split and opened with a roar.

The Review:

In the conclusion to the Ashes trilogy, everyone is fighting, and no one seems to be on the same side. Alex is fighting against Wolf and his pack of Changed even while learning their secrets, and while fighting against the monster in her head. Chris has left Rule and has fallen in with a band of travelers who may or may not be his salvation- if he can survive. And Tom has found refuge with a band former military vets who have the destruction of Rule their main goal, and have the perfect solider in Tom, especially when they twist tales of Chris’s and Alex’s relationship. Threatened by The Changed, the Saved, and everyone else, will Alex, Tom, and Chris be able to survive the darkest hours? Or will they finally fall to their foes?

Those who loved Ashes and Shadows will love the action in Monsters- it does NOT let up, just shifts points of view through the huge cast of characters that Black has created throughout her series. Familiar characters in the previous books come back for the final book, and almost all of the plot lines (see after the spoiler space for one that bugged me) are tied up relatively neatly (who are Wolf and the others, and what are their relationships to those in Rule? Why are the ones against Rule working from within?) in a huge and satisfying conclusion that is not a nice, neat, or pretty bow, unlike so many other series’ conclusions.  The narration does jump back and forth between characters frequently, so a close reading is recommended. 4 out of 5 stars. Definitely pair with other zombie fiction series such as Rot and Ruin or The Forest of Hands and Teeth.



I read the whole series back to back, and even I had a bit of trouble keeping track of the narration and cast of characters in Monsters, so I was really glad that there was at least a small guide in the back of the book. I would have been happier if it had been in the front- it detailed what happened to who in the first two books. For those who had waited a year between Shadows and Monsters, it might be a bit hard to keep track of who Greg was, or Sarah.

I really enjoyed the detail and the writing within the story, and the fact that (as my teens say) Black used “big words.” Sometimes, it seems that YA literature does not use the full beauty and complexity of the English language, which can challenge teens, but they want and need that in writing- otherwise they can grow stagnant.

I really liked the fact that Alex was the main focus, and Alex was the one to save herself, although the whole thing with the love …triangle? I guess you’d call it square since it’s her, Tom, Chris, and Wolf… stuff gets really weird after a while. There are some scenes in there where it seems like Alex is really losing it, and falling for Wolf seems to be part of it. I adore the climax, however, and I really do like the end.

The one thing that bugged me, however, that probably won’t bug a lot of readers, is that they never explained what set off the EMP. At the beginning of Ashes and the whole series, everything is set in motion by a huge electromagnetic pulse. I get that- I understand science things. But no one explains where it came from; we get the science of the Changed, and the biology of what may or may not happen in the future, so we can know what will happen with Chris and the others, but there’s no explanation of WHY anything happened. It’s a pet peeve of mine, and it is just a smudge in my overall enjoyment of the series, but it’s still a buggy, naggy thing.


Who watches the Watchers? (a guest post by Ashes author Ilsa J. Bick)

For the last two Saturdays, as part of The Sunnydale Project, I have shared with you some of my favorite Buffy read alikes.  Today, I share with you a guest blog post by an author of another amazing Buffy read alike, Ilsa J. Bick, author of both Ashes and ShadowsOne of the key characteristics of our girl Buffy is that she is a strong, independent, kick ass heroine.  And so is Alex, the main character in the Ashes trilogy.  Ashes is the story of “the changed” (the changed become zombie like in that they now eat human flesh, yummy) and Alex’s quest to survive in a new world.  The moment that the change occurs and Alex is spared marks a turning point for our heroine in much the same way that Buffy’s life is forever changed when she becomes The Chosen One, the slayer.  Like Buffy, Alex is reborn and must fight to hold back the darkness, both in the world and within herself.  You can read my review of Ashes (book 1) here and of Shadows (book 2) here.  Today, we’ll let author Ilsa J. Bick tell you why librarians, though probably not technically Watchers, rock!
The Changed will grow in numbers.  The Spared may not survive.
The Ashes trilogy by Ilsa J. Bick, published by EgmontUSA

True story: I’m on tour for ASHES, and I go to this school library in Michigan to talk to about two hundred kids.  They’re nice.  Most kids are.  So we’re talking, and they’re into it and so am I—when, all of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye, I see this big, hulking, football kid, call him Brandon, unfold from the depths of the couch where he’s been hiding.  (Really.  The kid was tucked up, head down, arms crossed, legs going in that please-God-get-me-out-of-here jiggle we all know because we’ve all done it.)  Now, Brandon is really huge, neck like a tree trunk, muscles large as cantaloupes, buzz cut.  The kind of boy a football coach would throw his grandmother under the bus to put on the team, know what I saying?  I’m not indulging in stereotypes, really, but given Brandon’s behavior, I know he’d rather have his tonsils taken out with a fork.  Except something snagged him, lured him out of hiding.

So Brandon makes this interesting circuit, walking the perimeter, scoping things out.  Counterclockwise.  (Yes, it’s the geek in me.)  Not quite making like a shark; more like a drone whose operator’s trying to decide if you’re worth the effort.  So I’m still talking, but I’m watching, see, keeping an eye on this kid, wondering what’s going on—when, from the very back, he shouts, “So, like, this book?  There’s survival stuff and an army guy and all that?  Like, and it’s not about vampires and boyfriends and in the future and crap?”   (He didn’t say “crap,” but this is a PG-13 blog.)

So, you know, I said that, no, my book was . . . blah, blah.  What I said really isn’t important.  Here’s what is: the minute Brandon said, “Dude, this is awesome,” and then marched up to sit in the front row.  (And, yes, you could see the heads turn and hear the buzz.)  Brandon even stayed after to talk until the librarian shooed him to his next class.

And here’s what else is important: when the librarian said, “Oh, this is marvelous. Brandon doesn’t read.  I’ve tried so hard to get him interested.  This is the first time I’ve seen him excited over a book.”  Thanked me for getting Brandon jazzed, and the way she said it?  Choked me up.

Now, was Brandon’s sudden interest a testament to my sparkling persona and great delivery style?  Only sort of; I’d like to think it’s the story because what this really speaks to is two-fold: a shared love for story, and a librarian’s commitment to her kids.  One almost never exists without the other because our librarians are often the ones who put the books we come to love in our hands in the first place.  That this woman knew this boy so well and tried so hard tells you, right off the bat, she cares not only about books but each kid.  She knows Brandon, and wants to share what she loves.

The best librarians are like that: people who turn an anonymous place into one where your name is known and you matter.  Where someone hands you a book and says, “I saw this and thought of you.”

Being nominated for a YALSA award is an honor and a thrill, all by itself.  Would I love for ASHES to make the Teen TopTen?  You bet.  But the nomination is also fabulous because it affirms what I truly believe.  What I write, I write out of great feeling and with care for my characters, my craft, the story.  That what I do is valued and becomes a gift?  What writer could fail to be honored?

Brandon . . . Dude, enjoy the read.

Ilsa J. Bick is a child psychiatrist, as well as a film scholar, surgeon wannabe, former Air Force major, and an award-winning author of dozens of short stories and novels, including the critically acclaimed Draw the Dark (Carolrhoda Lab, 2010); Drowning Instinct (Carolrhoda Lab, 2011); Ashes, the first book in her YA apocalyptic thriller trilogy (Egmont USA, 2011) and the just-released second volume, Shadows. Forthcoming is The Sin-Eater’s Confession (Carolrhoda Lab, 2013) and the last installment in the ASHES trilogy, Monsters (Egmont USA, 2013).  Ilsa lives with her family and other furry creatures near a Hebrew cemetery in rural Wisconsin.  One thing she loves about the neighbors: They’re very quiet and only come around for sugar once in a blue moon.
Visit her at www.ilsajbick.com.  Follow her on Facebook or Twitter @ilsajbick.
Slayer Scavenger Hunt

Did you notice some words written in red in this post? If not, go back and take a look. You’ll want to, I can reassure you. Why? Because we are having a Buffy themed scavenger hunt! How fun is that? To find out how to participate, read the details below. And I know you’ll want to participate because we are working on getting some GREAT prizes lined up for the winners!
  • Each week on our Slayer Saturday posts look for the words highlighted. There will be 3 sets of words each weekend, so make sure to visit all three blogs (Bookish Comforts, Patricia’s Particularity and Teen Librarian Toolbox).
  • Write down the words each week (Sept. 8 – Oct. 20), putting them in an order that makes sense. All together these words create a quote from Buffy.
  • During the last week a form will be made available on all three blogs where you can turn in the quote that you have pieced together.
  • On the last weekend of The Sunnydale Project, Oct. 27, the quote will be revealed! We will then draw a winner from those who have correctly completed the quote.
We really hope you have fun with this! We’re still finalizing the prize, but it’ll be worth participating for! An announcement will be made when all details have been finalized!

Book Review: Shadows by Ilsa J. Bick

Shadows is the high octane sequel to Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick.

Ashes Review

In Ashes, an EMP changed a large portion of the population, turning them into what can best be described as what we call zombies.  The Changed roam and eat the flesh of those that remain unchanged.  At the end of Ashes, our main character Alex found herself in a town called Rule hoping to find help for a fellow survivor named Tom; he was left injured as the two fled for their lives.  The town of Rule is populated by survivors that have organized themselves into a survival group that appears almost as a religious cult.  All is not what it seems in Rule.

Shadows picks off where Ashes left us, Alex is trying to escape Rule and finds herself in an enclave of zombies.  The zombies may be the least of her problems.

Shadows, book 2 in the Ashes trilogy by Ilsa J. Bick
Coming from EgmontUSA in September 2012
ISBN: 978-1-60684-176-1

Shadows is without a doubt a fast paced, action packed thrill ride.  There are several story lines happening throughout that shed light on the truth about Rule, the life of the Changed, and the lengths that every day people will go in order to survive.  This is a world where you never know who to trust and the unchanged sometimes turn out to be greater monsters than those who were changed.

As we follow several characters and their story lines, they eventually come together in a way that will blow your mind.  It was difficult at first to sort out all of the new characters – and there are a lot – but their paths all cross in a way that is satisfying and leaves you hanging on waiting for the third and final book in this trilogy. 

Bick is a psychiatrist and she definitely puts some interesting psychological twists into this tale.  There are a group of characters that will eerily remind readers of the Nazi doctors as they engage in some disturbing experiments regarding the nature of the changed.  And one of the biggest questions appears to be whether or not the changed are in fact done changing.

Although Shadows is indeed an exciting read, it can at times also be a challenging read.  There are many characters to keep track of and sometimes the characters make observations that they just leave dangling that come up a little bit later.  There was one scene I had to read multiple times to try and figure out what was happening.  And there is another scene where the relationships in Rule are sussed out that was also challenging since it had been such a while since I had read Ashes.  The Ashes trilogy is definitely a more sophisticated read and seems best suited to the older end of the ya audience.

The Ashes trilogy is a unique and complex look at a post apocalyptic world and it takes the zombie genre and tweaks it in all the right ways; each character is thrust into unthinkable situations and is forced to make difficult decisions in order to survive.  The characters also cover the spectrum; there are your truly evil characters, but there are also those that are basically good people forced to make unthinkable decisions in order to survive.  This is, after all, the post-apocalyptic world so how do the old rules apply in this new world?

The best part? Our female lead Alex still continues to be a strong female character but is not so awesome as to be unbelievable; she sometimes gives in to the temptation to take the easy or safer way out.  And for those of you that have read book one and may be wondering: I am totally on team Tom.  4 out of 5 stars and definitely recommended.  A great pairing with the Rot & Ruin series by Jonathan Maberry and This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers.

Check out this look at author Ilsa J. Bick at VonnaCarter.com