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Moving from Bystander Apathy to Empowerment, with a special guest post by author Lisa Burstein

#SVYALit Project Index

When we talk about sexual violence and rape, we must talk about what is often called The Bystander Effect. The bystander effect is the phenomenon in which a person will know that a crime is occurring, and yet do nothing to intervene on behalf of the victim. For example, when a 15-year-old girl was brutally gang raped in California, more than 20 bystanders watched as this event occurred. None of them tried to stop the assault. None of them called the police. And we saw in Steubenville how teens shared video recorded evidence of the assault and still failed to get the police involved. Part of the recent RAINN recommendations to the White House on addressing the issue of sexual violence on college campuses involves bystander education:

1. Bystander intervention education: empowering community members to act in response to acts of sexual violence. (from RAINN)

Their goal is, and everyone’s goal should be, to educate others about what sexual violence is and what it can look like so that bystanders can be empowered to step in and say no, this is not consensual.  There is a brilliant scene that demonstrates this concept in THIS SONG WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE by Leila Sales. The scene is set in an underground club. A teenage girl has been drinking; in fact, she is so drunk that the guys who are “making out” with her are basically holding her up. Another teenage girl, if I am remembering correctly it was her friend, looks over and sees this happen. She walks over and tells these guys they need to stop. When they assert that no, she is a willing participant, the girl says flat out she is too drunk to consent. Imagine if more of spoke up when we saw things that didn’t look quite right.

As part of the Dear Teen Me project, author Lisa Burstein shares a heartbreaking story about the time that she was raped. And she has mentioned as part of this story that she had a friend in another room that was aware of what was happening. He was a bystander who chose to do nothing.  She is currently writing a book in which she talks about this experience from that friend’s point of view. Today, she is sharing a little bit about it with us.

Thinking About the Boy as a Bystander 

I’ve written before about my experience being raped by my ex-boyfriend when I was seventeen years old. You can see a post about that here. But this post is about something else. This is not about me, or the boy who raped me, this is about the boy who was a bystander.


The boy who saw what was happening right in front of him and left.

The boy I considered a friend who saw me being assaulted and chose to do nothing.
The boy who I knew understood something was wrong because he called me later to make sure I was okay.
The boy who made me wonder what he did with his guilt.
It’s a question you hope you’re never faced with. Or if you are faced with having to stop someone from being hurt you assume you’ll do the right thing. You’re positive you’ll step in and do whatever you can.
If you have a friend who you see needs help. You help, right?
Or is it more complicated than that when it involves sexual assault, especially when you are a guy? When maybe it seems easier to stay out of it, or ignore it. If you aren’t the one engaging in the assault than it isn’t your concern.
It made me wonder. Girls are taught they are allowed to say no. Boys are taught that no means no. But what are people taught when they see someone being assaulted?

I’ve thought about this a lot.
For years I’ve wondered how my friend felt after walking away from me that night.
What did he do with what must have been the gnawing feeling in his gut as he walked away? If he could go back would he have done things differently?

I’ve thought about it so much I decided to write a character based on him.

I’ve decided fictionally to give him a second chance.

Having turned him into a character and having to be in his shoes and write his thoughts, feelings and fears, I’ve come to see that maybe his actions weren’t all his fault. That just like me he was only seventeen.
That as confused as I felt about what was happening to me, he must have been similarly confused by what he saw. 
This was also twenty years ago.

I am not in high school or college anymore, but I’m encouraged that some of the education around sexual assault now includes what you should do as a bystander.
Now includes not being afraid to tell about what happened to you, or what you see.

We are all bystanders until we speak out.

— Lisa Burstein

About Again:
Her second chance at college
His second chance at redemption
Their first chance at love

At twenty-nine Kate’s life has finally hit the rock-bottom it’s been shuttling toward since she flunked out of college. Losing her job and her boss/boyfriend in one drunk black out of a night she sees her only solution as starting over where she made all her mistakes the first time. When alcohol and partying and boys took over her existence. Freshman year.

Pretending she’s a nineteen-year-old freshman again with a new roommate and full class schedule is easy, following her new self-imposed sober and celibate rules is proving to be anything but.

Especially when she meets her shy, sweet Resident Adviser Carter.

As a second-semester senior enduring a college career filled with regret for the actions of one night, Carter is more than ready to graduate and get the hell out. He can’t wait to leave school and try to start moving on from the night his freshman year when everything about him changed. The night he saw his frat brothers about to sexually assault a freshman girl and instead of helping her, he looked the other way and left. His guilt for his cowardice and everyone campus branding him as guilty in the assault has made for a lonely four years.

That is until he meets the new undergrad on his floor, spunky, confident Kate.
Their growing friendship and undeniable attraction makes it harder and harder to hide the demons from their pasts–the former-selves they are trying so desperately to keep from each other–but when their secrets are finally revealed will their chance still be there.
Lisa Burstein is a tea seller by day and a writer by night. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from the Inland Northwest Center for Writers at Eastern Washington University. She is the author of Pretty Amy, The Next Forever, Dear Cassie and Sneaking Candy. As well as a contributor to the upcoming essay collection, Break These Rules: 35 YA Authors On Speaking Up, Standing Out, and Being Yourself. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her very patient husband, a neurotic dog and two cats.
Some Resources on Bystander Empowerment and Intervention:

Take 5: Reproductive Rights in YA Lit

Today Christie and I are talking about Reproductive Rights and Abortion in YA literature.  Here is a list of 5 books where teens acknowledge that abortion exists in their world.  Some of them consider it and decide it is not the right option for them, and others do make the choice to terminate their pregnancy.  It is important that a wide variety of discussions and choices and reactions be represented because it reflects the real world, the world teens are living in and allows them to make more informed opinions and choices because it helps them develop a more complete picture.

Someone Like You by Sarah Dessen

“You can’t just plan a moment when things get back on track, just as you can’t plan the moment you lose your way in the first place.” 

Halley has always followed in the wake of her best friend, Scarlett. But when Scarlett learns that her boyfriend has been killed in a motorcycle accident, and that she’s carrying his baby, she’s devastated. For the first time ever, Scarlett really needs Halley. Their friendship may bend under the weight, but it’ll never break–because a true friendship is a promise you keep forever. (Goodreads)

Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles

“I stretch my fingers across my belly and glide my hand back and forth, waving softly. Sometimes I think I feel a hand reaching out for mine. Or it could be a foot, kicking my hand away. I wish I could tell the difference.” 

Ellie remembers how the boys kissed her. Touched her. How they begged for more. And when she gave it to them, she felt loved. For a while anyway. So when Josh, an eager virgin with a troubled home life, leads her from a party to the backseat of his van, Ellie follows. But their “one-time thing” is far from perfect: Ellie gets pregnant. Josh reacts with shame and heartbreak, while their confidantes, Caleb and Corinne, deal with their own complex swirl of emotions. No matter what Ellie chooses, all four teenagers will be forced to grow up a little faster as a result. Told alternately from each character’s point of view, this deeply insightful novel explores the aftershocks of the biggest decision of one fragile girl’s life — and the realities of leaving innocence behind. (Goodreads)

Six Rules of Maybe by Deb Caletti

 “A lot of life is just surviving what happens.” 

Scarlett Hughes is overly involved in the lives of everyone around her, and exceptionally interested in the habits of her neighbors. But Scarlett is thrust solidly into her own life when her sister, Juliet, returns home from school—pregnant and surprisingly married to a sweet, handsome man whom she seems to have no interest in, but who is hopelessly in love with her. Forced to take a look inward for the first time, Scarlett discovers the necessity of dreams, as well as the necessity of facing reality and speaking the truth. (Goodreads)

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

“In a perfect world everything would be either black or white, right or wrong, and everyone would know the difference. But this isn’t a perfect world. The problem is people who think it is.”

The Second Civil War was fought over reproductive rights. The chilling resolution: Life is inviolable from the moment of conception until age thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, parents can have their child “unwound,” whereby all of the child’s organs are transplanted into different donors, so life doesn’t technically end. Connor is too difficult for his parents to control. Risa, a ward of the state is not enough to be kept alive. And Lev is a tithe, a child conceived and raised to be unwound. Together, they may have a chance to escape and to survive. (Goodreads)

Dear Cassie by Lisa Burstein

 “Words aren’t magic,” Rawe said, “but talking, opening up can be.”

There’s the reason I was sent to Turning Pines in the first place: I got arrested. On prom night. With my two best friends, who I haven’t talked to since and probably never will again. And then there’s the real reason I was sent here. The thing I can’t talk about with the guy I can’t even think about. (Goodreads)

Do you know of other titles where the issues are discussed? Share with us in the comments.

Book Review: Dear Cassie by Lisa Burstein

2013 Entangled Teen 9781620612545

In Pretty Amy, Cassie is one of three girls who were stood up for prom and arrested for possession with intent to sell. And then some other stuff happened.

Dear Cassie is about finding out what that other stuff is.  Cassie has been sent to a wilderness rehabilitation camp instead of jail.  Here she is supposed to reflect and write and learn to deal with who she is and what has happened in her life.  But it is here that she must also try and guard her heart from doing the one thing she knows she must never do again: fall in love.

Enter Ben.  Ben seems interested in Cassie, but Cassie knows that you can Trust No One.  Life has taught her that she is unlovable and doesn’t deserve good things.  But what if she is wrong?

Cassie is a tough young lady, trying hard to keep everyone at an arm’s length from her.  She wears her anger like a shield and uses her cussing as a repelling force.  Her anger is hard, but we get glimpses that there is a damaged softness inside of her.  Cassie makes reference to the thing that ended her up in rehab, and it is part of the ongoing mystery of who Cassie is, slowly unveiled.  There are clues that eventually make sense; she is constantly punching herself in the stomach, the allusions, the self loathing.  Can Cassie allow herself to heal?

The supporting cast of characters help us flesh out Cassie, while telling their own unique stories.
Nez: the sex crazed teen who seems to fill the emptiness inside her with physical relationships
Troyer: a steadfast friend who chooses not to speak (and I love what she eventually “says” about why)

And then there is Ben.  I have heard from many readers that they find Ben swoony; and he does seem genuinely interested in Cassie, he seems to care for her. That is a really huge deal when you know her history.  And when we learn why Ben is actually at rehab, it is a reminder that people are not always what they seem.  If I had to quibble, I would say that Burstein does seem to fall into the instalove trap here with Ben.  He seems to be attracted to her from the get go, but why? Is it just because he wants to save her, or break down her shell?  From the moment Ben sees Cassie he seems to set his sites on her and want to break her down and open her up and I would like to have seen the beginning part of the relationship developed a little more fully.  But it develops in very interesting ways as the two bicker and try and do the dance of pulling in and pushing away.

“I think I can make you happy,” he said, his eyes on the sky. “I also think you’re funny as hell.”

“Thanks,” I said, “but I’m pretty sure I’ve never been happy.”


When Lisa Burstein writes, it is all about the characters. They are deep, damaged, struggling – sometimes difficult to love (and read).  They are the teens that come into my library from broken homes and bad neighborhoods, feeling scared, alone and rejected.  They are the kids that know better then to hope for the future because the world of the present is kicking their ass pretty squarely right now thank you very much and they don’t have the money or support system to dig themselves out of this world.  And yet Burstein is here giving them a voice and a message: you have worth, you can forgive yourself, you can have a future, you can be loved.

Dear Cassie is authentic, raw and full of powerful emotion.  This book is for older teens, there is (a lot of) mature language and sex that is fitting to the character.  When Cassie cussed it didn’t bother because it was authentic to who Cassie was, but the cussing in the chapter titles was jarring and seemed a little indulgent.  This is being billed as a companion novel to Pretty Amy and while you don’t need to have read Amy to understand it, I think it would be beneficial.  Amy and Lila from Pretty Amy continue to be an emotional presence in Cassie’s life and are discussed often.  Parts of the story are told in flashbacks and journal entries. In the end, I give Dear Cassie 3.5 out of 5 stars.  This is a great find for teens looking for honest, edgy contemporary fiction and for fans of Sara Zarr and Ellen Hopkins.

Spoiler Space

Seriously – Super Huge Spoiler

Look, don’t read any further if you don’t want to know a major spoiler.  The topic of abortion comes up in this story. I won’t say who or how or why, but it does.  This topic appears so very rarely in teen fic (in pop culture in any way actually), but it was handled so well in Dear Cassie.  Whatever one’s personal beliefs about this very controversial subject, it is a factor in the lives of many teens.  I personally worked with a teen who had an abortion at 22 weeks.  I remember listening to her wrestle with making this decision, and watching her afterwards.  I have always wanted her story and the many stories out there like hers to be told and I like to imagine that Dear Cassie comes close.  For more on the discussion of teens and pregnancy loss, see What Does October 15th Mean to Teens?

A Twitter Chat with Lisa Burstein, author of Pretty Amy and Dear Cassie

Last night several of us got together and had a Twitter chat with Lisa Burstein, author of Pretty Amy and Dear Cassie.  Below are some of the highlights.

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Book Review: Pretty Amy by Lisa Burstein

Tonight is our Dear Cassie Twitter chat with author Lisa Burstein.  Join us on Twitter at 9:00 PM
Eastern and be sure and add the hashtag #TLTCassie to join in and follow along.  Dear Cassie is a companion novel to Pretty Amy.  Today we are re-running our review of Pretty Amy in preparation for tonight’s chat.  Tomorrow I will be reviewing Dear Cassie and doing a Tweet roundup of our discussion.
Amy and her two best friends sit wearing their prom dresses in a jail cell.  They’ve been stood up, kicked out, and now captured (for drug use, possession and intent to sell).  Their prom is definitely a night to remember, but for all the wrong reasons.

The next few weeks bring new forms of torture for Amy as she is forced to seek legal help, see a counselor, get a job, volunteer and more all in an attempt to keep Amy out of jail.  Jail, she is assured, is not the place she wants to be.  Angry, naive and petulant, Amy is finding it hard to participate in operation reform Amy – all she wants to do is kiss Aaron and hang out with Cassie and Lila, now forbidden.  Slowly Amy learns that the people in her life she looked up to the most were probably not looking out for her best interests, and that the very people she shunned may actually love her.  Sometimes the people we choose are our worst enemies and the people we left behind are still waiting there for us at the end of our journey.

Pretty Amy is anything but.  Amy can be really hard to like as she wallows in self-pity, makes bad decisions, and fumes below the surface at her parents for not talking to her without realizing that she is guilty of doing the same.  And yet, there are so many teens that are just like Amy.    Teens will love Amy because many of them are Amy.  As a reader you cringe because you can tell that these two friends that Amy is trying to find meaning in her life from – well, they certainly don’t feel that same.  She is the insecure third wheel who sits by and watches life happen without being an active participant, until she finally decides that maybe she should do something about it all.  Amy has frank and meaningful inner dialogue, with some well written phrases, that express her slow growing realization that she has lost herself.  Burstein writes the kind of self-revelations that teens write down in their journals and make art from (wait, that’s not just me, is it?)

Pretty Amy isn’t all angst; Burstein injects enough warmth and humor to keep the reader invested. Many of the adults in Amy’s life, including a hippie shrink and a gaseous attorney, are fun to visit.  Amy herself has a sarcastic wit.  And one of my favorite parts of this novel involves how the book gets its name.  The only one who really knows Amy is her bird, A J, who she has taught to say many things, including “pretty Amy.”  This bird has brilliant comic timing and can be counted on to interject some humor at just the right moments.

Pretty Amy is a biting, edgy contemporary novel that tells it like it is.  It is definitely for mature readers, remember this whole journey begins with a baggie of pot.  Like Deanna in Sara Zarr’s fabulous Story of a Girl, Amy slowly claws her way out of a suffocating life to take that big gulp of air that comes when we realize that we are often our own worst enemy and decide to do something about it.  Amy may hit rock bottom, but there is a cast of adult characters trying to help her find her way back up.  4 out of 5 stars.  Burstein captures the teenage voice and tells Amy’s story with a raw, aching honesty.

Dear Cassie Read Along and Twitter Chat with author Lisa Burstein

From author Lisa Burstein: I’ve never done one of these before, but I thought it would be fun to host a read-along for Dear Cassie. I am lucky to have both: http://www.thebookishbabes.blogspot.com/& http://www.booklovingme.com/to help me with this as facilitators.  
Our event will end with a live Twitter chat with author Lisa Burstein as part of our upcoming Entangled Teen Week here at TLT.
Entangled Teen Week
April 29 – May 4
Book reviews, book lists, author posts and more! Plus, we’ll be giving away a mini-collection of Entangled Teen titles for your personal or favorite library.
So what does a read along mean? It means you and other people read Dear Cassie at the same time on a schedule. Maybe you’ve already read it. Maybe it’s been waiting on your shelf or e-reader, or maybe you’ve been meaning to read it. Whatever the case- now you can read it and WIN PRIZES and HAVE FUN!
How do you participate? Lots of ways.
  • You can comment on discussions on the book page on Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/1267371-dear-cassie-read-along
  • You can tweet you favorite lines, passages, characters using #CassieReadAlong or take photos of favorite passages/quotes, or of where the book is while you read, etc.
  • You can shout-out your daily F word count, or favorite use of swear word.
AND, that’s not all, each tweet you send or discussion you start or respond to enters you to WIN your 
choice of 5, 3 or 1 – Entangled Teen Digital Books!
3 Lucky Winners!
It all ends with a twitter chat hosted by Teen Librarian Toolbox on April 30th, where you get to tweet with other readers and ask me questions!
Week of April 1st– Chapters 1-7
Week of April 8th– Chapters 8-15
Week of April 15th– Chapters 15-22
Week of April 22nd– Chapters 22-29

Week of April 29th– Chapter 30

Dear Cassie: booktrailer debut and exclusive excerpt

What if the last place you should fall in love is the first place that you do?
Last year, we introduced you to one of our favorite new authors, Lisa Burstein, and her debut novel, Pretty Amy.  Today, we are pleased to bring you her companion novel, Dear Cassie.  It is our honor to bring you the official book trailer, followed by an excerpt that illustrates how raw, honest and compelling Burstein’s writing can be.  Join us the last week of April for Entangled Teen Week (April 29 – May 4 – we’ll be giving away books!) and our Twitter Book Club chat with Lisa Burstein (@LisaBurstein) on Wednesday, May 1, 8:00 PM E #TLTCassie.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-NlpZapj14]
Read the Excerpt

Day 6 

24 Fucking Days to Go

This morning, we followed Rawe down to the water­front—Nez in front, me in the middle, Troyer in the back. Nez kept turning around and whispering to me about Arm Sleeve Tattoo Guy, making X-rated facial expres­sions and tongue movements like she was having some kind of porno stroke.

I didn’t want to hear about it and tried to ignore her, but that just made her keep going.

“Then he put both hands on my butt,” Nez said, holding her hands up and squeezing.

Rawe twisted around to bust her, but it was like Nez could sense it and she turned away from me, staring straight ahead and marching like she was a model prisoner, before Rawe could say anything. I looked down at my boots, clomping on the dirt path. Even with our short escape the other night, that was still how I felt. Like a prisoner.

Maybe I would have felt that way even if I wasn’t here.

The four of us finally hit the rocky beach. Murky green lake water gurgled with seaweed and foam like cappuccino. The boys were already there, standing in front of three canoes. Weathered Adirondack chairs were in a piled up with a bike lock. The door of a boat house, no bigger than our cabin, banged open and closed in the wind.

“It smells like I’m in a goldfish cemetery,” I said, covering my face.

“You can handle the pit toilets, you can handle this,” Rawe said, spinning her head around, Exorcist-style, to look at me.

I didn’t want to get into the fact that any toilet was really a goldfish cemetery.

“Sweet,” Nez whispered. “Maybe Andre and I can slip away for some afternoon delight.” She licked her lips.

“If it will finally shut your mouth, I hope so,” I murmured.

“How do you make out with your mouth closed?” Nez asked.

“Once I staple yours shut you can figure it out,” I said, not wanting to let Nez get the last word. It was about all I had left.

“Ladies, line up,” Rawe commanded.

We were in a line already, so we all looked at one another. Maybe Rawe was showing off for Square Head—Nerone or whatever. The boys were already in a line, too. Ben turned and waved to Troyer. He mouthed, Hi Laura, before he glued his eyes back on Nerone.

Nez looked at me, her mouth hanging open practically down to her knees.

“We had our own fun while Andre was squeezing your butt,” I said, making the same hand motions Nez had. I bet Ben was probably only being nice to Troyer to piss me off, but if I could piss off Nez in the process, all the better.

“We’re splitting up three-two-two, co-ed,” Nerone yelled. Then he went through some canoe safety tips. Like Rawe or Nerone really gave a crap about our safety.

I looked at the canoes, laying diagonally like huge green bananas on the lakeshore.

“I hope I get three—boy sandwich,” Nez whispered, practi­cally drooling.

“Seriously, Nez, shut the fuck up,” I said.

She turned and stuck her tongue out at me, as opposite a facial expression as any of the ones she made on the walk over here. I was learning that Nez viewed sticking her tongue out like I might view giving someone the finger. And like me, she did it a lot.

“All right, Nez, Wick, Troyer, pick a boat,” Rawe said. She stood next to Nerone, breathing heavily through her nose. She was shorter than he was, skinnier, paler, and unlike him, her head didn’t look like a Rubik’s Cube.

We each walked over to a canoe. I looked inside. Three sandy, wet life jackets lay in the bow. How long had those been in there?

Nerone sent the boys over next. He put Ben with Nez, Troyer with Arm Sleeve Tattoo Guy, and me with Brace Face and Curly.

 “Looks like I’m with your boyfriend,” Nez said to me, shaking her ass as she bent over and picked up a life jacket.

“Looks like Troyer’s with yours,” I sneered. I could have told her that I got the boy sandwich, but thinking of those two in a boy sandwich would put anyone on a hunger strike. I also could have told her Ben wasn’t my boyfriend, and I wondered why that hadn’t been the first thing to come out of my mouth.

Fucking Ben.

Nez snapped her fingers to get Troyer’s attention and mouthed, Touch him and die, making a slicing open her neck motion. I wondered why everyone thought they had to mouth words to Troyer. Even if she didn’t talk, it was obvious she could hear, and it was even more obvious that she’d looked scared even before Nez’s warning. Stravalaci’s hair was as dark as the black tribal tattoos that snaked up his arms. Troyer had heard from Ben why he was here and I was pretty sure she didn’t want to be alone with him on the water, or any­where else. I mean, I could probably handle him, but Troyer was afraid of words.

I waited while Eagan and Leisner walked over to our canoe. At least Leisner had some muscle on him, flabby as it was, but Eagan had arms like pipe cleaners. Unless his braces gave him superpowers, it looked like it was going to be Leisner and me carrying most of the weight.

I put on a lifejacket. I could smell mildew. It had that dis­gusting, cold, wet feeling that only lake water can give.

“Do we get helmets?” Eagan yelled over to Nerone. “There are two-million traumatic brain accidents each year.” He slurped on the saliva that got stuck on the metal attached to his teeth.

This was going to be one long fucking boat ride.

Nerone sighed. “You’re not fighting the rapids, Eagan. It’s a simple trip to the dock at the middle of the lake and back.”

“I’d still prefer a helmet,” Eagan said.

“What you prefer doesn’t matter,” Nerone yelled, his square head turning red, like someone had solved that side of the Rubik’s Cube. “Get in the goddamn boat.”

“You girls got anything you want to whine about?” Rawe yelled. I guess she wanted to make sure Nerone knew that she could be an asshole, too.

None of us spoke. I looked out at the dock we were sup­posed to paddle out to—it didn’t look simple. The lake was huge. To make it to the middle would probably take an hour at least.

With Eagan in my boat, probably longer.

“Hi Cassie,” Leisner said, sidling up next to me, his curly blond afro shining around his head like a pubic hair halo.

“How the hell do you know my name?” I hissed.

Leisner looked at me and smirked. He didn’t need to answer. Ben had told him my name. What the hell else had Ben told him? I watched Nez and Ben take off in their canoe, Ben in back, Nez in front, each paddling on opposite sides, their paddles splashing water.

“Eagan should probably sit in front in case we need his brace-face for radar,” I said, throwing each of them a wet life jacket.

Leisner caught his, but Eagan winced as his hit his chest and fell on the sand.

“Nice catch,” I said.

“Nice throw,” Leisner said. I didn’t think it was possible, [ but he was worse than Ben. It could have been because he didn’t look anything like Ben.

I glanced over at Troyer, who was sitting at the back of her canoe with Stravalaci in the front. Her mouth was closed so tight it looked like it was glued.

“You get in the middle, Cassie,” Leisner said. “Let the guns run the stern.” He made a muscle.

“Your guns look like they’re out of ammo.” I laughed. There was no way I was letting one of them be in charge of steering this thing. If I was forced to go out into the middle of the lake with these two idiots, at least I wanted to know I would be able to steer my way back.

Leisner’s face screwed up as he stepped closer to me. “Maybe I should test them, Cassie.”

Was he starting something? I hoped so. I wanted to punch the curls right out of his hair. “Call me Cassie one more time and it will be your last.”

“Wick,” Rawe yelled.

“Leisner,” Nerone yelled.

I got into the back of the boat before Rawe could say any­thing else. There was no way I was doing push-ups on sand covered with dead fish guts.

“Sorry, Cassie,” Leisner taunted as he got into the middle seat.

I picked up the paddle and ignored him. I knew how to steer a boat. My brother and I used to go fishing on Lake Erie when I was a kid. During the summer we would stay for a week with my dad’s sister who had a beach house that she lived in all year round. It was filled with seashells and too many cats. Every morning, before anyone woke up, my brother and I would sneak out and down the path to the row­boat rocking in the water at the dock. We would row into the middle of the lake to fish while the sun rose, talking about how we could survive on a desert island without anyone in our stupid family.

So yeah, I knew how to steer a fucking boat.

I also knew that once the ’roids were out of Leisner’s system, I could probably lay him out with one punch.

Eagan got his lifejacket on and sat in front of the canoe. With everyone in place, we finally pushed off, gliding on the water, our paddles thrusting us forward.

“You know drowning is the fifth highest cause of accidental death,” Eagan said.

“So is talking too fucking much,” I yelled up to the front of the boat. My voice echoed off the metal of the canoe and the water below us.

“Ben said you were feisty.” Leisner said. I could hear the smirk in his voice.

Feisty? I’d been called a lot of things in my time, but feisty was not one of them.

“Ben’s an asshole,” I said, staring at the back of Leisner’s curly blond head and picturing myself drop kicking it.

“He said you’d say that,” Leisner added.

“Can we please stop talking about Ben?” I kept paddling. My arms already ached, water splashing underneath us as the canoe moved forward.

“Who’s talking about Ben?” Leisner joked.

I pulled my paddle out of the water and soaked him with it.

“You’re lucky you’re a girl,” he said.

“You’re lucky you’re not,” I said.

 “Be careful, you guys,” Eagan said. “I’m fairly sure this boat is at least twenty years old. Do you know what happens to metal as it ages?”

“Maybe Ben will come save you, Cassie.” Leisner laughed.

I felt fear splash up from my stomach to my chest. Leisner bothered me in a way I recognized, which meant I was screwed. As much as I wanted to deny it, annoyance was not at all what I felt for Ben.

I looked out at the lake. Ben and Nez were in the lead, the sun making them seem like shadows of themselves. I needed to stay the hell away from him.

“It’s a long row to the dock,” Leisner said. “What do you want to talk about, Cassie?”

“I don’t,” I said, paddling so hard my hands burned.

“We could sing,” Eagan said. I could hear the saliva flying out of his mouth as he said it.

“Start singing and I drown you,” I said.

“You don’t have it in you,” Leisner said.

“Well, maybe not when it comes to him,” I said, flicking my chin up at Eagan, “but you’re a different story.”

“I’m right here,” he said, stopping mid-row to turn to me.

I allowed the anger to build—fire starting in my chest, flames licking out to my arms and hands. I wanted to take my paddle and whack his knowing smile so hard that it landed in Ben and Nez’s boat.

I had managed to keep myself in check the whole time I’d been here, but Leisner was different. I deserved my fist in my stomach as a painful and constant tattoo needle, but he de­served my fist in his face because he was an ass-clown.

“I knew it.” Leisner laughed and turned back around.

I paddled harder, picturing the water as his stupid jock face. I was annihilating it in my mind, splitting his skull, breaking his nose, cracking his teeth.

“Let’s sing the name song, Eagan,” Leisner cooed. “I’ll start. Cassie, Cassie bo-bassie, banana-fana-fo-fassie, all talk no action-assie, Cassie. One more time . . .”

“Shut your blow-hole, or I’ll shut it for you.” The fire moved into my eyes. That’s how it feels. I think it’s why people call anger blind. You can’t see anything but red cov­ering your target. You can’t feel anything but searing force pushing you.

“I think we all know, including Ben,” Leisner said, indicating him out in his boat with Nez, “that you won’t do anything.”

I stood up. Leisner didn’t notice, he was still singing—still mocking me—his blond-curled head bobbing up and down like someone juggling a soccer ball on their knees.

The canoe teetered as I edged toward him. He was so high on himself, he didn’t even notice me standing behind him, breathing, waiting, trying to decide what to do. I tapped him on the shoulder, still unsure. I waited. It would all depend on what he said when he turned around.

“Look, Eagan, I caught a Cassie with my song,” Leisner said, his smile greasy. “I figured she was easy, but—”

“I asked you to shut up,” I said quietly. That’s another thing about anger; it makes you calm when you let yourself do something about it.

“Sit down! You’re going to capsize the boat!” Eagan screamed.

“She’ll sit,” Leisner said. “She wouldn’t want to do anything she’d regret.”

I already had too much I regretted to let this one go.

I don’t feel anything when I grab for someone, just a rush of relief, like when you are desert-thirsty and take that first drink. So at first I didn’t even notice that I’d pushed Leisner— that I’d launched him airborne—until he reached out to steady himself and we both fell into the water.

It was so cold when I hit, it felt like twenty thousand self-induced punches to my stomach with an icicle.

“Boy and girl overboard,” Eagan yelled.

I was in the water, bobbing, trying to keep it out of my mouth.

“You are so dead,” Leisner said, water bubbling up around his head.

I treaded as best I could. I was so angry, I’d forgotten I couldn’t swim very well—that I should not have been pushing people around on a canoe. That without my brother, there was no one to be sure I made it back to shore safely. My life jacket was holding me up okay, but it was clear that it had a shelf life and mine was expiring. I reached for Leisner. I didn’t know what else to do.

“You look like a wet dog,” he said, his smile bobbing on the water. “A wet bitch.”

“You look like a naked, upside-down female synchro­nized swimmer in need of a wax,” I spit through the water. “Desperately.”

“You’re on your own now, tough girl,” Leisner said, swim­ming past me and pulling himself back into the canoe.

Eagan was reaching his paddle out to me, but I was too far away to grab it. I looked at the shore—the water fishy, muddy in my mouth, starting to fill my ears. Rawe and Nerone stood there. They hadn’t moved, hadn’t even yelled. I was surprised one of them hadn’t jumped in.

Of course, I hadn’t yelled help yet, either. I didn’t know if I could. Was I really stubborn enough to let myself drown rather than admit I needed it?

I felt arms surround me, pulling me up, my mouth free of the water.


“What the hell are you doing?” I asked, but I didn’t fight him even though he was touching me again, all of me, and was still technically male.

“Saving you,” he said, droplets of water sticking to his eye­lashes. “You looked like you were drowning.”

“I’m wearing a life jacket, moron,” I said, but I still didn’t struggle away from him. It was just like Leisner said: Ben had come to save me. Could everyone see something between us? Something I was trying so hard to contain?

Never again.

I heard another splash—Nez jumping in. She flailed, but it was clear she was faking, at least to me.

“Looks like you have a real damsel in distress,” I said.

“She told me she was on her school swim team,” Ben said, squinting in the sunlight.

“She’s probably just trying to get your attention,” I said, watching her swim closer to us even as she pretended to struggle, her black hair whipping and splashing like a fish flip­ping on a line.

“You weren’t?” he asked, his arms still tight around me, the kind of tight that makes it hard to breathe but has nothing to do with being held and everything to do with who you are being held by.

“I fell in,” I said. His body still stuck to mine in the way only bodies can stick.

“Do you want me to let you go?” he asked.

I wanted to say Yes, say, Never touch me again, say, Why do you have to be the kind of guy who jumps into Port-O-Potty-colored lake water to save me? but I couldn’t. I leaned into him, letting his strength keep us afloat, letting myself stop fighting him for just that second, knowing that once I was out of the water, I could pretend I hadn’t wanted any of it.

“First you, then Nez,” he said, pulling me over to the boat. He secured me with one arm, swam with the other, my mouth on his shoulder, on his wet hair.

“I think you lost something,” Ben said to Leisner, treading on the side of our canoe, one of his arms still around me.

“Nope, we’re all set on skanks,” Leisner said.

“Fuck you,” I spit, the red filling my vision again.

“Are you okay?” Eagan asked.

“I will be when I get back in this fucking boat,” I said, pulling myself up, the water splashing behind me.

“Next time you try to drown someone you should probably make sure you can swim first.” Leisner laughed.

“I’d be scared for next time,” I said, picturing it: my fist, his face, the brittle crunch of cartilage.

I sat in my seat, wet and cold, Ben’s eyes on me.

Nez started to scream for him, to flail more forcefully, but Ben didn’t move.

“She’s going to forget she’s supposed to be drowning if don’t get her soon,” I said, anything so he would stop staring, anything so he would go away and I wouldn’t be tempted to jump back in.

“I guess I’ll get my thank-you later,” Ben said, swimming toward Nez, to someone who could definitely admit she wanted his arms around her.

I shivered and looked out at the water. The sun sparkled on it like millions of paparazzi snapping flashbulbs. Taking pic­tures of me, the outside of me. The part I couldn’t hide.

The only part I know I can ever let Ben see, no matter how he makes me feel. 

Dear Cassie by Lisa Burstein, published March 5, 2013 by Entangled Teen. ISBN: 9781620612545

Check out more from Lisa Burstein on TLT, we love her, the way she writes, and the fact that she stands up for authentic storytelling:
Pretty Amy Book Review
What if Amy wasn’t Pretty; a tale of censorship
Amy speaks; Pretty Amy’s censorship uncensored
Let’s talk access! Any why libraries are radically unsafe places, and that’s a good thing




Lisa Burstein is a tea seller by day and a writer by night. She received her MFA in Fiction from the Inland Northwest Center for Writers at Eastern Washington University. She lives in Portland, OR, with her very patient husband, a neurotic dog and two cats. Dear Cassie is her second novel.


Cover Reveal: Dear Cassie by Lisa Burstein

Earlier this year, I wrote a lot about a girl named Amy.  Amy was, of course, the main character in Pretty Amy, the debut ya novel by Lisa Burstein.  I really liked Pretty Amy and its message, and it became a rallying point for me regarding the notion of censorship.  I have talked with Lisa some back and forth regarding my thoughts and together, we became warriors not only for Amy, but for the fundamental idea behind libraries: the right to read (it’s important!).  Lisa Burstein has a new book coming soon, Dear Cassie, and it is my honor to introduce Cassie’s story to you (we met Cassie in Pretty Amy).  So, make the drum roll sound in your head . . .
What if the last place you should fall in love is the first place that you do?

 You’d think getting sent to Turning Pines Wilderness Camp for a month-long rehabilitation “retreat” and being forced to re-live it in this journal would be the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.
You’d be wrong.
There’s the reason I was sent to Turning Pines in the first place: I got arrested. On prom night. With my two best friends, who I haven’t talked to since and probably never will again. And then there’s the real reason I was sent here. The thing I can’t talk about with the guy I can’t even think about.
What if the moment you’ve closed yourself off is the moment you start to break open?
But there’s this guy here. Ben. And the more I swear he won’t—he can’t—the deeper under my skin he’s getting. After the thing that happened, I promised I’d never fall for another boy’s lies.
And yet I can’t help but wonder…what if?

DEAR CASSIE excerpt:
We kept walking on the lake trail, the bullfrogs croaking. There was also a humming in my ears from the nicotine.
It could only be from the nicotine. It had nothing to do with being outside, at night, alone with Ben. It had nothing to do with Ben coming to the cabin and taking me instead of Nez and it definitely had nothing to do with the stars above us shining like they were the sky’s tiara.
I stopped on the trail and looked up, taking them in, when all of a sudden bright colored lights exploded in the sky—fireworks, one after another, on top of each other, huge kaleidoscopes of light, like sparkling rainbow spiders.
“How did you know?” I asked, my voice going softer, like if I talked too loudly they would stop. It was so beautiful, after weeks of so much ugly.
Ben turned to look at me, the colored lights in the sky turning his skin pink, blue, green. “I’m magic.” He shrugged.
I geared up to tell him to fuck off, because that was some corny-ass shit, but then I realized that he really kind of was. In that moment he was able to actually make me forget being me.
“I would try to kiss you,” he said, “but I’m afraid you’d kick me in the balls.”
“I probably would.” I laughed, the sky filling with noisy color like paint launching from a giant popcorn popper. “But like I said, it wouldn’t be about you.”
“I guess I’ll have to figure out how to make it about me,” he said, taking off his boots and socks and standing. “Come on.”
“There is no way I am getting near that water again,” I said.
“I’ll make sure nothing happens to you,” he said, holding his hand out to help me up.
I looked at his palm, open, waiting, just wanting to hold mine. For once, I didn’t think about anything except that there was a cute, sweet, smart-ass boy standing in front of me with his hand out.
I pulled off my boots and socks and took it.
We stood at the lake shore, our hands still clasped, the water licking our feet, fireworks decorating the sky.
I turned to him. He was looking up, his mouth open in wonder like he was trying to swallow the moment.
It was definitely one worth keeping.
DEAR CASSIE pre-buy links:
Additional links to Lisa’s pages:

Lisa Burstein is a tea seller by day and a writer by night. She received her MFA in Fiction from the Inland Northwest Center for Writers at Eastern Washington University. She lives in Portland, OR, with her very patient husband, a neurotic dog and two cats. Dear Cassie is her second novel.

All About Pretty Amy:
Pretty Amy Book Review
What if Amy wasn’t Pretty; a tale of censorship
Amy speaks; Pretty Amy’s censorship uncensored
Let’s talk access! Any why libraries are radically unsafe places, and that’s a good thing

Amy speaks: Pretty Amy’s censorship uncensored (a guest post by Lisa Burstein)

Once upon a time I read and reviewed a book called Pretty Amy.  I liked it and made it the TLT Rec of the Week.  I thought, you know, this really speaks to the heart of what teenage girls feel.  I also thought, I wish I had known to get a bird and teach it to say Pretty Karen.  Alas, I was not that smart of a teenager.  So I’m following Lisa Burstein on Twitter and she Tweets that a magazine decided not to review her book because of drug use.  There is some drug use in Pretty Amy, that part is true.  And I sputter here, because the fact that drug use is all they got of this book astounds me.  Also, you should know, some teens do drugs.  So I started writing this rant in my head and, as often is this case when this happens, I finally had to sit down and just post it because it wouldn’t leave me alone.  Then, someone challenged my rant, which prompted another rant about how really and truly, libraries are unsafe places and that is a good thing.  I already knew we were going to be doing a lot week of Banned Books Week posts so I said: Lisa, Lisa, Lisa, won’t you please type a post for my blog for me so I have less work to do?  I mean, I said: can you please share with us your experience of what it was like to experience a form of censorship.  Yes, THAT’s what I said.  And she said yes, and even better, she let AMY TELL US what it’s like to be censored.  As Libba Bray says, “teens, our audience, keep us honest.  Because they can smell bullshit a mile away, and they will call you on it.” (from an interview on The Oeditrix)

This story starts when a national teen magazine (the kind in grocery stores) that was supposed to write a review for my debut novel PRETTY AMY decided after reading three chapters to pass on their review because “the book contained drug use and they didn’t want to promote it to their readers.”


An official who examines material about to be released, such as books, movies, news, and art, and suppresses any parts considered…
Examine (a book, movie, etc.) officially and suppress unacceptable parts of it.
censorship (from Google.com)

I was shocked; “drug use” encompasses about two pages of the book. It does not glorify it, or promote it. PRETTY AMY is not about drug use, it is about a confused teenage girl who struggles to find herself after a prom night arrest. Attempts to fit in and be loved for who she really was, while navigating parents, friends, boys and the law.

Books are banned in all kinds of ways. Sometimes it is a school denying a book to their students. Sometimes it is a library refusing to shelve it. Sometimes it is a media outlet refusing to review a book because of content.

The latter is what happened to my book.

It’s one thing for me to tell the story; it’s another for the girl who fights to find her voice for the whole 304 pages of PRETTY AMY to tell it. Here exclusively for Teen Librarian Toolbox are Amy’s feelings on being censored.

After I got arrested all people (adults) kept telling me was to talk about my feelings and tell the truth. Not like I ever wanted to–especially when pushed, but now I am being punished for telling the truth. For my voice being too truthful.

Now, other girls like me are being punished because they won’t get to read the truth. At least not in that prissy magazine. Lisa Burstein might have written the book, but I’m as real a character as you’ve ever seen. As I say in the book, “I am one of the legions of middle-class white girls who search malls for jeans that make them look thinner, who search drugstores for makeup to wear as a second skin, who are as sexy and exotic as blueberry muffins.”

Guess what? Girls like us sometimes try drugs. We sometimes see nothing good in our lives so we cling to our friends and do whatever they do. We fall as low as we can fall and it takes falling that low to come out victorious on the other side.

Girls like me exist. Not publishing a review isn’t going to change that. If anything it makes girls like me feel even more misunderstood.

Lisa Burstein was a girl like me in high school. She used drugs, she smoked, and she had psychological issues. She had no one who understood her. She felt alone. What if she would have come upon a review of PRETTY AMY back then in a magazine? Been able to read about the book and see that there was something out there that might help her understand the way she was feeling when her parents and therapists and psychotropic drugs were not. Might her life have been different? Might it have been better?

Would she possibly have avoided the four-years of hell that were high school for her?

I believe there is a chance.

When you censor what is real, you take away that chance. You take away the ability for readers to have an opinion, a voice. You control what they see. Even at seventeen I know that’s bullshit.

This magazine can say whatever it wants about what it thinks its readers can handle, but that doesn’t change what teenagers are “handling” every day. Drugs, worse than the pot I smoked. Boys, going after more than most girls know how to give. Identity and how it feels like it changes daily, but never into what you want it to be. And of course the doom that falls over you late at night when you are alone in your room and you wonder if life will ever get better.

By controlling what girls like me see you are not changing any of this. And, being a girl like me, I know change is the only the thing that can help.

To help get my book and other banned books into the hands of teens and well everyone, I am running a contest for $175 worth of book buying gift cards and Manuscript Critiques for participating in donation drive for High School and public libraries.

Participate in the Pretty Amy Banned Books Week Donation Drive

Add PRETTY AMY on Goodreads

BUY Barnes and Noble

BUY Amazon

What if Amy wasn’t Pretty: a tale of censorship

As a reader, I know that story has the power to change lives.  From the moment I read It by Stephen King in the 6th grade, I knew that I wanted to be THAT type of friend.  When I read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee I knew I wanted to be THAT type of a person.  You can, in fact, read about a couple of my life changing experiences as a reader here and here.

As a librarian, as someone who cares about teens, who cares about the future of the world, I count on the fact that story has the power to change lives.  I put books in the hands of teens every day and hope that they will have their Pandemonium or Ask the Passengers moment.

As a girl, I understand that story has the power to help us understand who we are, how we think, and how we can be so much more than the world sometimes seems destined to let us be.  I imagine that is also the case for boys, but have less personal insight into it.  But that is why there is such tremendous value in authors like Judy Blume and Sarah Dessen and Sara Zarr and yes, in the book Pretty Amy by Lisa Burstein.

You see for me, the heart of Pretty Amy is the story that most girls have within them: we are struggling to be at peace in our own skin, we are struggling to find a group of people that we can be It level friends with.  We want to find a way to hold our head up high and feel pretty – not on the outside pretty, but inside valuable to the world no matter what pretty.  And this is the heart that beats in the core of Pretty Amy.

However, before Amy can get to the climb towards self acceptance, she must – like so many of us must – realizes that she needs to take that journey of self discovery.  In Pretty Amy, that moment comes when she is arrested on prom night for drug possession (marijuana) and intent to sell.  Yesterday, author Lisa Burstein tweeted that a magazine had decided not to publish a review of her book Pretty Amy because it had teens using drugs in it.

Let’s take a side step for a moment, shall we?  You may have heard that there is a mega hot selling book out right now called 50 Shades of Grey.  I have not read this book, but it is my understanding that many people consider it to be a model of unhealthy relationships.  There are articles about this book on every major news outlet and you can see commercials for it on TV.  You can not escape the phenom that is 50 Shades.  So, while we are busy being told time and time again that these types of relationships – and trust me, 50 Shades is not the only example out there, I have even discussed before my concerns about the way unhealthy relationships are portrayed in teen fiction and, in this case, adult fiction (trust me, teens are reading it too) – are okay, we are going to sweep Pretty Amy under the rug because a teen does drugs.  Please note: drug use is in no way glorified or condoned in this book, in fact, it is the impetus for Amy’s journey to a healthy sense of self which means she must move away from these activities.  What’s the take away teen readers get here? Reading about unhealthy romantic relationships good and titillating, reading about non glorified drug use is bad.  Let’s unpack that a little further shall we: it is your role to subjugate yourself in unhealthy ways to a man to find fulfillment as a woman, but we can’t let you read about a teenage girl smoking pot, being punished for it and finding ACTUAL healthy self-fulfillment.

So while Bella must surrender her soul and become a member of the immortal undead to find her true love and we accept that, we can’t let teens grapple with a very real life scenario and come to a sense of understanding that some of the choices that we make are unhealthy and unwise but we can fix them.  They don’t have to define us as we can move forward and make different choices.  Please note Bella can never make a different choice – she has surrendered her soul – but Amy most definitely can.

That is part of the value of realistic fiction.  It allows us as readers to step into someone else’s shoes, to live another person’s life, and learn from it.  We may learn compassion for others.  We may learn to make different choices.  We may learn to act, think or feel differently – but we learn.  The question we must ask ourselves is this: how do we want our teens to learn?  Do we want them to learn in the safety of their rooms in the pages of a book?  Or do we want to shelter them to such an extreme that they don’t understand the dangers of the world they live in and are forced to learn in very real ways?  I personally vote safety of a book, but that’s just crazy talk.

I have known teens and have watched them disintegrate before my eyes because they have fallen into the rabbit hole of drugs.  It is such a horrible sight to witness, drugs are a powerful force.  Abuse, drugs, crime – literature, the power of story, can help teen readers figure out how to live in the world without making very painful and sometimes irreversible mistakes.  If we want our teens to be critical thinkers who can make good decisions for self and future, then we must be willing to let them enter into the pages of a book and examine the story critically.

Amy becomes pretty, pretty on the inside pretty, because she learns to love herself.  Her story can teach teen girls everywhere to do the same.  I wish that we would understand that our teens are on those crucial steps toward adulthood and we need to allow them to make safe steps on that journey by allowing them the opportunity to think and feel and interact with the real world.  And let’s not forget, some of our teens are already living those lives that we are trying to protect other teens from, we devalue them and their story when we censor their truth.  Just because you want to pretend something isn’t there doesn’t really make it go away.  I think the question we have to ask ourselves is how to we learn about the lives of our teens, give them voice, and have meaningful conversations with teens and each other about the lives of teens.  And the answer is found in the pages of books like Pretty Amy.

Read my previous thoughts on censorship:
A Banned Books Week Primer
Banned Books Week: Teen fiction is . . .

Here is my review of Pretty Amy by Lisa Burstein
And read more about the power of YA literature by clicking on the Why YA? link