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The #SVYALit Project Historical Fiction Google Hangout is Happening TODAY

Here’s a look at today’s discussion in the #SVYALit Project. Today’s topic is historical fiction and we’ll be discussing MAID OF SECRETS and MAID OF DECEPTION by Jennifer McGowan, A MAD, WICKED FOLLY by Sharon Biggs Waller and GILT by Katherine Longshore.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfMQtsqndt0]

Here’s a link to the Cuddlebuggery post on Sex Positive YA that is mentioned.

Here’s a link to the School Library Journal article I wrote on Slut Shaming with an example of a new sex positive YA title

Here are our lists of sex positive YA mentioned: Karen’s List  Christa’s List  Carrie’s List

Also, want to know more what we mean when we say Edwardian or Victorian or Tudor historical fiction? Jennifer McGowan and I wrote an article on YA Historical Fiction which will appear in your August 2014 issue of VOYA Magazine. We break down the various time periods and give you examples in our YA historical fiction reading timeline.

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

My Historical Fiction Challenge, an update (Book Reviews for Maid of Secrets by Jennifer McGowan and The Rose Throne by Mattie Ivie Harrison)

When I was in the 8th grade, my parents received a mysterious letter in the the mail.  I soon would learn it was called a “Progress Report”.  In this particular case, it was reporting the fact that I was not making very good progress in the subject of history.  In fact, I was failing. There was punishment involved. And tears.  Eventually, I passed 8th grade history and went on to pass all other history classes. But a hate affair was history was born.

But this only partially explains my struggles with reading historical fiction.  I am an accidental though not apologetic feminist.  One thing that stood out to me in my travels through the history timeline is how prone we are to treating others different, often less than, ourselves.  And as a woman, it stung to learn that there was a time when my parents may have traded me to a man for a cow in marriage.  For the record the man would have married me, not the cow.  Or that I didn’t have the right to vote.  Or that I couldn’t get my tubes tied to prevent myself from dying in pregnancy without my husband’s permission.  So I came to realize that part of what I struggle with in reading historical fiction is how it (sometimes) romanticizes the past and the subjugation of women (or others).  Not all of it, of course, but there is a tendency in historical fiction to have a romantic bent and, in all honesty, I am not very romantic and I don’t find the oppression of any people group romantic.

BUT . . . last year I read Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein which literally knocked my socks off.  See my naked toes wiggle.  Here was a strong, confident, take charge woman rising above the cultural norms. Two of theme even!  And it was just an amazing book.  So this year, I decided to challenge myself and read 5 historical fiction titles.  You can read about that challenge here: Take A Step Back in Time.

So, how am I doing and what do I think? Why, I’m glad you asked.

“themes of empowerment woven into its tapestry of Tudor-set intrigue” – from Between the Covers, on Maid of Secrets

The first title I read was Maid of Secrets by Jenn McGowan.  It is part one of a new series called Maid of Secrets.  When we first Meg, she is part of an acting troupe/gang of thieves.  Interestingly, women couldn’t act in this time period so she is sent out to work the crowd and is a master thief.  Ironically, she is also a great actress.  Meg was awesome because she is very nontraditional; see, for example, master thief.  She is eventually caught and forced to be a spy for the Queen. She is one of many, each of whom have different skills they bring to the table.  There is crossing and double crossing and a threat around every corner.  And sometimes fancy dancing. Also, there is a murderer.  So, as you can see, this was not at all what I was expecting and was a very interesting read.  I thought Meg was a strong female character, there were many others, and there was a lot of nice twists here.  It is a compelling read.  I did have problems tracking some of the characters and their titles, but I am pretty sure that is a reader issue and not a storyteller issue.  I will actually continue to read the series to find out what happens, which is high praise indeed.  This is a must have and I think readers of mysteries and thrillers will be happy reading this title along with historical fiction readers. I give it a 4 out of 5 stars for strong character development, and intricate and thrilling plot, and empowering females while still being realistic to the historical setting.

“There are some secrets worth killing for.  And some deaths that are worth keeping secret.” – Maid of Secrets

Two princesses, two kingdoms, and ancient prophecy . . . 

The second title I read was The Rose Throne by Mette Ivie Harrison.  The first thing you should know is that this is not actually historical fiction, it is fantasy.  But like a lot of fantasy, it has a medieval times sort of feel to it.  Here we meet two princesses from neighboring kingdoms: Ailsbett and Marissa.  They live in a world where men have a certain type of magic and women another, except one of the princesses has no magic in a world that esteems magic more than anything.  Both of these women are forced in various ways to hide their true thoughts and feelings and put in a variety of roles that often make them miserable.  In short, they were forced to be everything I hate about historical fiction, but it IS authentic to what life like that back then would have been (and it is authentic to this fantasy world).  It just makes me ragey (and thankful I was born in the 20th century).  They do grow and make amazing choices, but often at great cost.  I thought that this book was a little slower in its storytelling and incomplete in its world building.  However, my mom borrowed and read the book and she loved it.  It has its charms, for example, I was invested in both the princesses and wanted them to break out of this oppressive life to pursue their passions, but I think it really was a case of wrong reader.  It has 48 reviews on Goodreads with an average rating of 3.29 and I would give it a 2.5 largely in part because I felt it was slow to develop and I would have liked a bit more world building, which may come in the sequels.  Also, the language was a little stilted and formal for me.  My mom, however, would give it a 3.5 and is looking forward to reading more.  I must add, one of the Kings in this story is such a good dad and the other is truly barbaric.  Games of Thrones fans may appreciate another look at Kings and kingdoms wrestling for power.

“I assure you, if I had been in control of myself, I would not have done it.  I would have been safe instead of courageous.” – The Rose Throne

It is interesting to me to even compare the covers.  Maid of Secrets, we see a strong, confident female with her head up and holding a knife.  Everything about her screams power and confidence.  Make no mistake, she is not entirely powerful as she is being held a prisoner by the Queen and forced to serve as a spy, but she has an inner power and confidence that allows her to still have some autonomy.  With The Rose Throne, we see a girl looking down, her head bowed.  One of our princesses, in particular, is very much forced to be in subjugation to the prince that she is betrothed to and his father the king.  In fact, she is in love with another man and must work hard to hide this secret out of fear of what will happen if others learn; It’s a very Romeo and Juliet doomed, star crossed love affair.  So your romantic readers should eat it up (remember, that is so not me.)  And there is romance in Maid of Secrets, so don’t despair.

I have had a lot of teens come in lately and ask for historical fiction.  Demand has been increasing it seems in my area.  Are you seeing the same trend?

Next up, Tarnish by Katherine Longshore.  It comes highly recommended so I am excited.  How about YOU?! What historical fiction have you been loving and why?  Let me know in the comments.

Take a step back in time with guest blogger Jennifer McGowan (Historical ya fiction spotlight)

Earlier this week I confessed that Historical Fiction is my Achilles heel (I even managed to turn a post about historical fiction into a post about epidemics – I am that awesome) when it comes to collection development – so I enlisted help! Today I bring you a guest blog post by someone who writes historical ya fiction, Jennifer McGowan.  Her ya historical, Maid of Secrets, comes out in the spring.

Why in the World write YA Historicals?

With the recent boom in Young Adult fiction series such as Twilight, The Hunger Games, The Mortal Instruments and, of course, Harry Potter, the obvious sub-genre for an author interested in writing Young Adult novels would seem to range from contemporary paranormal to futuristic dystopian.  With novels like these, readers can explore larger-than-life magic or mythical beings or evil governments sprawling out of control… and escape into a world that just isn’t quite real. Seems like a terrific formula of success, doesn’t it?
So of course, I didn’t follow it.

Instead, not only did I choose to write YA Historical… but I wrote it about a group of fictional girls in Elizabethan England—a time period not exceptionally well known by most teen readers.  And although I was not entirely sure how my stories of Elizabethan spies would fare, I was thrilled when Simon & Schuster picked up the first two books in the series, starting with MAID OF SECRETS (debuting May 7, 2013).

As for choosing the Elizabethan time period for the setting of my novel, I blame my College History class. Under the instruction of Rev. John LaRocca, S.J. at Xavier University, I fell in love with the danger and royal intrigue of Queen Elizabeth’s court, and was awed by the incredible strength of will that she demonstrated during her extraordinary 44 year reign.  I became somewhat of a scholar on the subject of Elizabethan England, and learned that the men and women surrounding Elizabeth proved as fascinating as she was – her scheming Ladies in Waiting; the diabolical Sir Frances Walsingham, spymaster to the Queen; the shrewd strategist Lord William Cecil; and the endless round of suitors who pursued the unmarried Elizabeth for most of her life.

The Young Adult angle came later. When I decided to write about Elizabethan female spies, it seemed natural that they should be unmarried… which perforce made them younger (aged 15-18). In addition, I elected to set my tale at the very start of the Queen’s reign, when she was only twenty five years old. With that in mind, an author friend suggested that I write the story primarily for teens instead of adults, and MAID OF SECRETS was on its way.

Maid of Secrets by Jennifer McGowan
Simon and Schuster for Young Readers
May 2013 ISBN: 9781442441408
Check it out on Goodreads

But Elizabethan England isn’t the only time period that has gained publisher and reader interest recently—in fact, some recent and upcoming novels help demonstrate exactly how diverse and intriguing the world of YA and Middle Grades Historical Fiction has become:

THE WICKED AND THE JUST, by J. Anderson  Coats, set in 13th Century England, is the story of medieval teens behaving badly in English-occupied Wales.  (debuted April, 2012)

THE KEY AND THE FLAME, by Claire M. Caterer, set in a fantasy version of Medieval England, is an MG tale in which an eleven-year-old American girl and her friends travel to an alternate universe of mystical adventure. (debuts April, 2013)

A MAD, WICKED FOLLY, by Sharon Biggs Waller, set against the backdrop of the women’s suffrage movement in 1909 England, tells the story of an Edwardian teen who, after getting expelled from her French boarding school, pursues her passion for art – and for an attractive police constable – despite the restrictions of her upper-class family. (debuts Winter, 2014)  

GILT, by Katherine Longshore, set in Tudor England, is the tale of a young woman who must learn to walk the fine line between secrets and treason when her best friend marries Henry VIII … and who discovers that in the Tudor court, the price of gossip could literally be her head.  (debuted May, 2012)

THE FALCONER, by Elizabeth May, set in 1844 Scotland, is the fantasy historical tale of a young Edinburgh socialite who endures the murder of her mother by a faery… and becomes a hunter of the fae. (debuts May, 2013)

BORN WICKED, by Jessica Spotswood, set in 1890s New England, is the story of three eccentric sisters who must keep their magic a secret from the repressive Brotherhood. (debuted June, 2012)

IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS, by Cat Winters, set in WWI-era America, is the tale of a teen girl mourning the loss of her first love in 1918 California, where a flu has turned deadlier than a world war, and spirit communication has become a dark and dangerous obsession, illustrated with early-twentieth-century photographs. (debuts April 2013)

EVERY DAY AFTER, by Laura Golden, set in Depression-era Alabama, is the story of a young girl finding the true meaning of family when her father leaves, her mother is lost in sadness, her best friend betrays her, and the very roof over her head is at risk.  (debuts  June, 2013)

And of course 😉

MAID OF SECRETS, by Jennifer McGowan, set in Elizabethan England, is the story of a wry, resourceful thief forced to join an elite group of spies in Queen Elizabeth’s court—to find a murderer, save the crown, and resist the most forbidden temptation of all: falling in love. (debuts May, 2013)

These books I’ve listed above are just a small sample of what YA historical readers have in store, and all of the authors are members of the brand new historical blog http://corsetsandcutlasses.wordpress.com/.  So stayed tuned, keep reading, and let’s make a little history!
Jennifer McGowan writes Young Adult Elizabethan romance fiction full of swash and buckle. Her first novel, MAID OF SECRETS, debuts May 7, 2013 from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. You can learn more about her at www.jennifermcgowan.com, or follow her online at @Jenn_Mcgowan.
What’s your favorite historical fiction title for yas? And what’s your favorite historical time period to read about?  Tell us in the comments.