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RevolTeens: Helping Teens Through Revolting Times, by Christine Lively

While teen contributor Morgan Randall talks about developing healthy habits today, librarian Christine Lively talks today with us about helping teens during these difficult times. Together, these posts combine a two point perspective on helping teens deal with the emotional and mental toll of 2020.

In the past few months, everything has become revolting. The nation, from our workplaces, homes, stores, and our schools are now potentially dangerous because of COVID-19. 2020 has been absolutely terrible. Not only that, but it has been terrible and terrifying in unprecedented ways that affect everyone.  We’re all feeling despair and fear. We’ve seen revolt and protest across the country in response to injustice, and nobody knows when the injustice or the virus will end. While this space is usually to highlight RevolTeens who are changing the world, this month I wanted to focus on how the changing world may be changing teens instead.

Teens are having a terrible time. If you are a teen or know a teen, you know this. Adolescence and young adulthood is a time of milestones and celebrations. They’re one of the biggest markers of growing up. Prom, graduation, college, summer jobs, summer trips, and sports have been canceled or greatly changed. Losing those celebrations and milestones isn’t a small thing. It’s a truly life altering loss. Johns Hopkins Children’s Center senior life specialist Nily Rahman shares this on the Johns Hopkins Medicine Website.

‘“Teenagers are grieving,” Rahman says. “They’ve been working hard and looking forward to these events for years, and now they don’t get to attend a prom or walk across the stage for their diplomas.”

According to Rahman, some of these losses are things parents can’t fix. Well-meaning parents may try to help provide some kind of substitute, but their good intentions don’t always pan out. “One mom I know tried to put on a prom for her kid and it sort of backfired, and made the loss feel worse,” Rahman says.

As an alternative, she suggests teenagers look toward the post-pandemic future, and work on a vision of something that will be memorable and fun.

TLT teen contributor Riley Jensen is coping by perfecting her baking skills

“We’re asking teens, ‘When you’re finally able to celebrate, what would you want it to look like?’ We’re encouraging them to create collages, vision boards and written plans so they have something they can look forward to, even if it’s different from what they originally pictured.”’

So many of us parents, teachers, and librarians are struggling to reach teens. Looking past the pandemic and knowing that somehow there will be a time “after” can be a much better approach than telling teens that it isn’t so bad or that they haven’t lost everything.

Rahman also suggests closely monitoring teens’ mental health. The teens in your life may be sad and overwhelmed, and that is definitely to be expected. If you know a teen well, you may be the expert they need to notice when their behavior and moods have changed enough to cause concern. Some warning signs she mentions:

  • Sleep changes, such as sleeping more or insomnia
  • Eating a lot more or a lot less
  • Signs of self-harm, substance abuse or acting out more than usual
  • Complaints of body aches that aren’t due to a physical problem
  • Isolating more than normal (for example, eating dinner alone in their room)
  • Not participating in activities that normally bring them joy

The CDC also offers resources and information for teens themselves. Their website has a page dedicated to information and resources for teens to manage their mental health and stress including hotlines they can call in times of crisis.

Mental Health First Aid also has great tips to help teens cope during COVID_19.

Here are a few tips for mental health and coping from teen Mental Health First Aid that you can discuss with the teens you know.

  1. Maintain a daily routine with consistent sleep, activity and study patterns.
  2. Stay connected with others, and try to find moments of humor.
  3. Talk to people you feel comfortable with about your feelings or worries, then give yourself permission to stop worrying.
  4. Eat breakfast every morning, plus snacks and meals at regular times throughout the day.
  5. Limit coffee or energy drinks, as these will increase feelings of anxiety and make it difficult to relax.
  6. Look for patterns or be aware of situations that make you feel particularly worried or anxious. When you’re in these situations, try relaxation or distraction techniques or ask a family member or friend to help.
  7. Relieve times of high anxiety with physical activity; engage in regular aerobic exercise (e.g., walk, jog, yoga, dance).
  8. Limit the amount of time you spend talking about or watching/listening to news media or social media if you are finding information about the COVID-19 situation overwhelming or distressing.
  9. Do hobbies or activities that you enjoy, calm you down or focus your mind and body. These could be arts and crafts, physical activity, listening to music, reading, journaling, watching TV or movies, or chatting with friends by phone, videoconference or text.
  10. Understand that the people around you are probably also finding this situation stressful, and they might also be having difficulty controlling their emotions. Try to resolve conflict.
  11. If you continue to feel overwhelmed, out of control or unable to calm down after a period of weeks, seek help from a mental health professional.
  12. Take time for yourself.
  13. Be kind to yourself and each other. We’ll work through this together.

Take care of yourself and of others during this stressful time. Teens need as many caring adults in their lives as they can get. There will be a time for RevolTeens to get back to shaking up the world and showing us a better way forward. Right now, they’ve lost so much. The best way we can help them is to listen, pay attention to how they’re feeling and acting, and get them help – from a trusted adult, a life coach, a therapist, or whomever they really need. Understanding them starts with hearing them, being there for them, and helping them stay safe.

About Christine Lively

Christine Lively a school librarian in Virginia. I read voraciously, exchange ideas with students, and am a perpetual student. I raise monarch butterflies, cook, clean infrequently and enjoy an extensive hippo collection. Christine blogs at https://hippodillycircus.com/ and you can follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/XineLivelyFacebookTwitterShare

Morgan’s Mumbles: Healthy Habits, by teen contributor Morgan Randall

Every Wednesday, teen contributor Morgan Randall shares what’s on her mind. She is one of the many teen voices we are sharing here to help us all listen to teens to better serve them. Today she is sharing some healthy habits, combine this with Christine Lively’s post on helping teens cope with the pandemic and you have a great resource for helping teens navigate these difficult times.

Recently, I have been trying to incorporate healthy habits into my daily and weekly routines. Here are some habits I think that truly can have a great impact on the way you live your life:

  1. Have a Morning Routine – This can be something that is just a few steps, or very elaborate. But I highly recommend you try to build a regular routine that you practice every day when you get up (and challenge: try to do it without it being on your phone). Try to create a routine that involves/encourages productivity in the morning, but make it productive for yourself NOT for your job. It won’t be easy, new routines are hard to adapt to and I haven’t been the best at doing this habit so far, however, when I do those days are the most productive and I feel the best. My ideal routine (for myself, yours could be very different): wake up, make my bed, yoga, read my Bible, bullet journal/look at my schedule for the day, daily hygiene (brush teeth, wash face, etc), get dressed for the day, drink water, make breakfast and tea, then eat both of those.
  2. Drink Lots of Water – As I have been trying to live a healthier lifestyle, I have begun to try and drink the necessary amount every day. We are often told to drink eight eight-ounce cups of water a day, but for a majority of teenagers and adults, this isn’t an accurate amount to drink. I recommend using a water calculator, which use your age, weight, and how active you are in order to determine a more accurate amount of water to intake. It is important to drink water first thing in the morning, to help start your day off refreshed.
  3. Journal – Personally, I have recently been enjoying bullet journaling, because it allows me a way to track my emotions, sleep, habits, plan my days and months, and have a collection of my memories in one place. There are lots of really pretty bullet journals out there, which personally made it really hard to start because I wanted mine to be perfect. However, I realized that a minimalist approach that isn’t “pretty” is just fine because it is for me personally to plan and reflect not for anyone else. However, you don’t have to bullet journal, there are plenty of other kinds of journals to keep and I recommend you explore them until you find one you like. A few ideas: classic journal (a diary in a sense where you record your days), brain dump journal (just a space to write what comes to mind), commonplace journal (a collection of quotes and notes from things you are reading or that you hear), dream journal (a record of your dreams), and there are so many more.
  4. Make Bed – This is an easy thing to do at the beginning of the day that helps put you on the right foot. If you make your bed every day when you get up you have already completed one productive activity, which is really helpful in tricking you brain into being more productive during the day.
  5. Workout – This can be for any amount of time, and it can be as simple as walking or something more strenuous. The goal is to get your body moving and be able to feel better after the workout. I read a quote the other day that really changed my relationship with working out: “Exercise is a celebration of what your body can do, not a punishment for what you ate.” It is highly recommended that you workout in the morning, however, if you can’t pick a specific time in your routine that you workout during three to five times a week.
  6. Yoga – Personally, I love yoga in the morning when I wake up and right before I go to bed. It is a way to relax and decompress. Plus, it provides me with time to reflect, because I do yoga in silence. There are all different levels of yoga, some of which in themselves can be their own workout, but some are able to just be calming stretches. Feel free to create a routine that works for you, and don’t be afraid to try new things.
  7. Meditation – I typically do this after my evening yoga, using a guided meditation. There are a lot of meditation apps and guided meditations on YouTube. However, if you prefer meditation can be done in complete silence and you explore and discipline your mind individually.
  8. Fun Reading – During the school year, this was hard for me, because oftentimes I would read out of requirement rather than for enjoyment. Even if its just a few pages, or a chapter or two, try to set time aside every day to read something enjoyable.
  9. Spend Time Outside – Take some time every day to go outside and get some sunlight. (Friendly reminder: wear sunscreen). Be responsible and safe while doing so, but spend time walking, swimming, gardening, or even just sit outside for a while.
  10. Get Dressed – Something helpful to me has been to take the time every day and get dressed, even if I have nowhere to go because it tricks me into being productive and it makes me feel better about myself.
  11. Plan Your Meals – Every week I like to plan my meals because it allows me to be conscious of the things I am putting into my body. Plus, it forces me to limit how much I drive-thru places which is super important for my health and my wallet.
  12. Reach Out To Someone – Every day I have been trying to reach out to someone, even if it is just a “hi” in a text. This has allowed me to rekindle some friendships and stay in touch with important people in my life, even during these hard times.
  13. Have A Creative Outlet – It is super important to find a way to creatively express myself, and to do so consistently. This doesn’t have to be daily, but I try to do a creative activity I enjoy daily or every other day. This allows me to stay in touch with my creativity and avoid getting too bored.
  14. Practice Gratitude – I practice my gratitude when I journal, however, if journaling isn’t the best way for you to express your gratitude I challenge you to write letters to those you are grateful for, or call/text them and let them know.
  15. Take Technology Breaks – This allows you to separate yourself for a while, to be able to reflect and decompress. This can vary from have a day separate from social media, or maybe just turning off your phone for a few hours every day. Just find a way to be conscious about your technology intake.

Morgan RandallTeen Contributor

Morgan recently graduated high school and is currently enrolled to attend college in the fall getting her BA in Theatre and Dance with an emphasis on Design and Technology. She loves theatre, writing, reading, and learning. But something that has always been important to her is being a voice for those who feel like they don’t have one, and being a catalyst for change in any way possible.

Sunday Reflections: The Kids are Not Alright, Alright, Alright


Last Sunday night, with a house full of teens, my email alert dinged. The prinicpal was sending out an alert to parents letting them know that our high school population had experienced a recent loss and that extra counselors would be available the following morning. What it did not tell parents, but all the teens in my home seemed to already know, was that a young man had died that Friday night by suicide. In fact, the teens informed me, no fewer than four teens had died in our surrounding and nearby community over the weekend by suicide and teens were talking about it on social media. The teens knew far more than any adults did, and far earlier.

Just a few months before, a young man died in the house next door to mine from a drug overdose. Again, teens talked about this on social media. There was a lot of discussion in the days and weeks that followed about how this young man had been struggling with mental health issues and had used substances to help self medicate and calm his troubled mind because he did not have access to the resources he needed to handle his medical crisis in healthy ways. There was a lot of angry among the teens in my life about how adults were failing them when it came to issues of mental health. That theme came up again over the course of the last week as teens talked about and processed what it meant to have another one of their friends die because of mental health issues.

There are several things I’ve thought about in the last few days and months regarding teens and mental health. These teens are right, we, as adults, are failing our youth when it comes to issues of mental health.

Teens have access to this information in ways that they never have before and it is both a blessing and a curse. In many ways, the stigma against mental health is being eradicated and teens are openly talking about the very issues that generations before them had to deal with in secret. Teens today know that they aren’t alone; that their friends, neighbors and school mates are struggling. There is a lot of good that comes from feeling seen, feeling understood, and feeling supported. There is a lot of good that comes from bringing mental health issues, one kept in the dark, into the light. I am glad that these discussions are happening, though I sometimes worried about how those discussions are happening without a lot of adult assistance. Whether we want them to or not, teens are having meaningful discussions about serious issues and if we don’t engage them, they are often having them without meaningful support or resources.

I have often read that psychologists caution that adults be careful about how they talk about the issue of suicide, as teens can be more susceptible to this issue. It is one of the reasons that many psychologists, educators and parents bristled and cautioned about the way that mental health issues and the topic of suicide are presented in the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why. And there is evidence to suggest that the debut of 13 Reasons Why has correlated with an increase in the number of teens attempting or completing suicide. This does not, however, mean that we shouldn’t talk with teens about suicide. In fact, many psychologists suggest that it is important to talk openly with teens about suicide, especially if you are a parent.

Many articles of late discuss the fact that our teens seem to be struggling more than ever with depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation. Our kids today are not, in fact, alright. Suicide rates among teens have been increasing at an “alarming pace” according to recent reports. And many psychologists warn that social media may be a possible contributing factor. As are a rise in the number of incidents of bullying, increased academic pressure, and the growing number of families struggling financially.

I am not a psychologist so I am by no means in a position to talk about this issue. I am, however, a parent with my own mental health issues (depression, anxiety, sometimes panic attacks and some suicidal ideation in the past) raising two kids with a tendency towards anxiety. I have also worked with teens for the past 26 years. Without a doubt I have experienced more teen death in the last five years than I did my first twenty-five years working with teens. I find this fact alarming. I have also spent a lot of time recently diving more deeply into the concept of trauma informed librarianship and vicarious trauma.

The reach of social media is also profoundly more far reaching. These teens in my home weren’t just talking about one death, but they were now talking about four deaths of their peers in the surrounding area. That’s a lot to process. Many of these teens have their own mental health struggles that they wrestle with and they worried whether or not they would be able to cope with this knowledge. Social media means that these teens have more information, on a much larger scale, and far more quickly. These teens weren’t just processing one death, they were processing four. It made a huge difference.

As an adult who cares about and advocates for teens, I honestly didn’t and don’t know what to do. The truth is, I am not qualified or equipped to deal with a mental health crisis of this nature. Not many of us are. But the teens in our lives need us to help them navigate in these moments.

So the next day, I went to work and emailed everyone in my system that works with youth and let them know about the chatter on social media so that they would have a heads up if the overheard the youth in our libraries talking about these issues. I sent them links to local resources that help our youth in mental health crisis. I sent them a link to a poster that they could put up in their library so that teens could contact someone confidentially. It’s not a lot, barely anything, but it’s something. And something is always better than nothing. NAMI is a great starting place for information on teens and mental health.

The most important thing that I did is that I contacted every teen I know in my personal life – because I am the parent of a teen and active in my church I have some teen contacts – and let them know that I was here if they needed to talk. I told them that I loved them, that I supported them, and that I believed in them. It is no magical cure for mental health issues, but again, knowing that there is someone in your life who supports you unconditionally can make a difference.

It is important that we know and understand that mental health issues are real. That they are medical issues. We need to continue to work together to end the stigma, to provide better medical coverage for mental health issues, and that we work together or provide more affordable health care so that every person in crisis can get the medical interventions that they need to live healthy, productive and meaningful lives. Although mental health can be an extremely personal issue, it isn’t an isolated issue because the costs of mental illness are real, global and growing. The opioid crisis, for example, costs the United States billions of dollars and millions of lives.

If you are not aware of the growing mental health crisis among our youth, I beg of you to please take some time reading about it online. If you care about youth, any youth, please become informed of the signs to look for and local resources in your area to refer teens to. If you work in a library, please make sure your staff has training, a clearly laid out policy and plan of action, and that your staff knows that you will support them if they ever need to intervene in a moment of crisis. Be proactive regarding this issue, not reactive. Your staff need to know what to do in case of an emergency. Please consult with your local mental health and legal experts while you approach this work so that your library is adopting best practices and having the appropriate conversations.

Last week, as I was wrestling with my own issues regarding this issue, another teen librarian contacted me personally to let me know that one of their teens had handed them a suicide note in her library. Although I have worked with and talked to many teens in crisis, nothing like this has ever happened to me before. I thought about the overwhelming emotional burden that this librarian, my friend, now found themselves in. Help was contacted and appropriate steps were taken to keep this teen safe, but I know that this librarian will spend the rest of their life dealing with this moment. I hope it will be the only one like it for them.

When our youth are in crisis, we all are in crisis. Nothing happens in isolation. We are all connected and we all have a responsibility to create the best world that we can for our youth, for each other, and for ourselves. Evidence suggests that we are failing and that has immediate and far reaching consequences. We won’t know the full impact until far into the future. We will see the effects for decades to come. It’s our responsibility to do what we can now to help our youth not only survive this world we are making for them, but to thrive. I’m here to tell you, we’re doing it wrong.

The Weight of Our Words: Reflections on how we talk about mental health and why it matters

Trigger Warning: Please note, mental illness and suicide are discussed in the following post.

Before you begin reading this post I wanted to let you know that I have The Teen’s full permission to share this with you.

As I walk up to my teenage daughter to pick her up from her Sunday School class, I can immediately see that she is upset. She has what I like to call her angry posture: Her arms are crossed across her body. She is rigid. She is closed off. Her face is a mask. When I ask her what’s wrong, she kind of tilts her head to the door and mouth’s the words “in the car” to me. I know whatever happens next is not going to be good.

Her feelings pour out of her as soon as she closes the door. “X (the youth leader) said that mental illness is caused by demons. She basically just told me that I’m possessed by demons and I am so angry.” We continued to talk on the drive home and she explains to me that today’s Sunday school lessons was about demons – or maybe it was about mental illness, I’m not sure how it all started – and that the youth leader kept implying that the underlying cause of mental illness was demons and demon possession. The underlying cause, she emphasized, was demons.

This is how the rest of our day and night went. I would ask The Teen a question, say “what do you want for lunch?” And she would reply with her answer followed by, “but what do I know, I’m possessed by demons.” Any statement she made would be followed up by a dismissal, “but what do I know, I’m possessed by demons.” It was heartbreaking and angering to witness. I was angry. I was heartbroken. I was in full parental damage control.

You see, for several years now my teenage daughter has been in counseling for an anxiety disorder. She comes by it rightfully, regular TLT readers know that I have shared very openly my own struggles with depression and anxiety. Genetics is a bitch sometimes and you will never experience worse mom guilt than realizing that you have passed down the very worst parts of you and have to watch your child struggling with the very things that have haunted you for a lifetime. I have worked hard to protect my child from the very thing that had just happened.

The Teen had her first panic attack in the 7th grade, ironically at another church youth event. She sat in a chair listening to a sermon as the boy behind her reached out and started stroking her hair. She fled to the bathroom where she experienced what would turn out to be her first panic attack. Later that night she came home and told me that she thinks she had a panic attack and as we discussed what she experienced as I told her that yes, it sounded like she had and we would keep an eye on things to see what happens. And yes, we also talked about how it was not okay that this boy had touched her without her permission.

Over time, she would have a couple more panic attacks and we started doing the work that we needed to do to help her with her anxiety. At night I would go into my room and cry because I was heartbroken to realize that my beloved child had gotten the very worst parts of my broken brain. During the day, we talked and worked on getting the help she needed to live a life with a generalized anxiety disorder.

So when this youth leader spent the morning talking about people with mental illnesses being possessed by demons, it was personal and painful for her. We’ve done a lot of work in my house to erase the stigma associated with mental illness. I do that work because I want people to not feel shame about mental illness so that they will reach out and ask for and receive the help they need. I do that work because I have lost far too many people to mental illness and suicide. I do that work because I know how close my own children have come to losing their mother several times in the last decade. I do that work for me. I do that work for my daughter. I do that work for the 1 in 4 people who struggle with mental illness.

And in the course of one brief Sunday School lesson, that work was being undone by someone that I had entrusted my daughter’s spiritual and emotional well being with. And I was angry. No, I was livid.

One of my first difficult encounters in the library dealing with mental illness occurred in my very early twenties. I was working as a YA paraprofessional in a public library while working on my degree in youth ministry at a local conservative Christian college. Yes, it’s true, I have a degree in youth ministry from a conservative Christian college. My faith is very important to me. I had arrived at work and soon a young man came in, agitated. He told me he thought he was possessed by demons and that he wanted books that told him how to get the demons out of him.

I was in way over my head here. This was a young man clearly struggling with mental health issues and I was young and naive. I found what I could find in the collection about the topic he had asked for, I gave him a Bible, and I also gave him information about local mental health services hoping that he would seek and find the help that he needed. I talked to my supervisor and we explored what we could legally say and do to help this young man. At the time, I didn’t know his name or anything about him. It was terrifying and overwhelming and it was the first time I realized the full weight of my job.

Although that was the first time I saw this young man, it was not the last. He began coming into the library fairly regularly. He never spoke to me of demon possession again. He would eventually assault another patron and begin regularly threatening me. In the end, for everyone’s safety, he was eventually permanently banned from the library, a measure that libraries only ever use in the most extreme cases. I don’t know what happened to him, but I will never in my life forget that first encounter with him. I will never forget the desperation in his eyes, the fear I felt for him, and the ways in which I felt so unprepared and so inadequate to help him. I will never forget how his fear that he might be possessed by demons haunted him and prevented him from truly understanding that what he needed was support and care for a mental health issue.

Over the years, like any public library employee, I have worked with many people struggling with mental health issues of varying degrees. It never gets easier.

Resource: The Clam Before the Storm: How Teens and Libraries Can Fight Mental Illness

My child is not possessed by demons. She is intelligent, kind, and compassionate. She is, like me, one of the 1 in 4 people who struggles with a mental health issue. She has an illness with known causes and known treatments and she deserves respect, support and medical care just the same as any other person struggling with a chronic illness. Getting proper care and support is vitally important. It can literally be the difference between life and death.

We’ve been wrestling with what was spoken at church for the past few days. My teen is very lucky, she lives in a home where she is loved, supported and cared for. She knew that what was said was factually incorrect and that she could talk about what was said and how it made her feel and we’ve been working through it. Not every teen in that room will be as lucky, some of them may be struggling with their own mental health issues and now, once again forced to feel confusion and shame; they may delay seeing out the help that they desperately need. This is the weight of our words.

When we talk incorrectly about mental illness or attach stigma or shame to mental illness, people die. Fear, shame, confusion and stigma can all lead to people failing to seek out care and treatment, putting their lives in actual risk. I recently heard on NPR that the suicide rates in America are increasing at an alarming rate across all demographics, including our teens. Our teens are in crisis and what we say matters.

How we speak about mental health matters.

Watching my child struggle these past few days with the impact of a 45 minute Sunday School lesson has reminded me once again about the duty we have when we are entrusted with the care of youth. How we speak, what we say, whether intended or not, can have significant weight. We will often never know the full extent of our impact on our teens, both positive and negative, but there is a weight to our words that they carry with them.

I’m pretty sure my daughter will never go to that church again. She doesn’t feel safe there. She doesn’t feel respected there. And she doesn’t trust that youth leader. And she feels shame; shame that I have worked so hard to tell her that she didn’t need to feel. I resent that I took my daughter to a place that was supposed to be safe and affirmed and she walked out feeling the exact opposite.

This week has been a stark reminder for me in a far too personal way that for those of us who work with teens, the weight of our words is a burden that our teens will carry with them long after we have forgotten that we have even spoken them. So choose your words wisely each and every time.

Please note: there is a lot of mental health information available, including information specific to teens and mental health. Please consult reputable resources, learn the statistics and the impact and how you can talk about mental health issues without causing harm to others.

Twin Cities Teen Lit Con 2018: Mental Health in YA Literature Presentation

Saturday, May 12 was Twin Cities Teen Lit Con, a wonderful yearly event that I have now had the honor of speaking at for the past three years. This year it took place at Chaska High School, an absolutely stunning (and giant!) school. If you’re unfamiliar with Teen Lit Con, it’s exactly what it sounds like: a convention dedicated to teen (YA) literature. This event is FOR teens—teens win the prizes, teens get first dibs at getting a seat in sessions, etc. I feel extremely fortunate to not only present there each year, and meet so many wonderful teens, but to then also be able to hear fantastic talks from YA authors from around the country. Big thanks to everyone at MELSA, the Teen Lit Con team, the many volunteers, and Chaska High School for the amazing day. What a lot of work went into pulling it off.


Waiting for the kickoff panel with Angie Thomas, Adam Silvera, Melissa de la Cruz, and Barry Lyga.

Waiting for the panel with Angie Thomas, Adam Silvera, Melissa de la Cruz, & Barry Lyga.




Two years ago, I presented on new and forthcoming YA. Last year I also presented on Mental Health in YA Lit. I presented one session to an absolutely packed room. You can read more about that here. This year, they asked me to present my Mental Health in YA Lit talk twice, so we can accommodate everyone who wanted to attend without squishing people into one session. I was a little nervous because my first session was opposite Adam Silvera’s talk and wasn’t sure anyone would come see me when they could be seeing Adam. Fortunately, my room filled up.





Callum and his BFF Miya came with me and were lots of help setting up all my free stuff.


Mental Health in YA Lit is one of my main areas of interest. I have presented on this topic before at NerdCon: Stories and for the International Bipolar Foundation (that webinar is archived and available in the link). Since 2016, we at Teen Librarian Toolbox have been running a Mental Health in YA Literature project (#MHYALit). This link will take you to the hub for our project, which so far has had well over 100 guest posts from authors, bloggers, librarians, and other teen advocates, often about our own mental health struggles and successes. I am passionate about advocating for mental health awareness, care, and representation in YA books. I never tire of talking about it.


Thank you to To Write Love on Her Arms, Mental Health Minnesota, and National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for providing me with free materials to hand out at each presentation. Thank you to my fellow Teen Librarian Toolbox blogger Karen Jensen for the reading- and TLT-related buttons. I also made buttons that said STRONG on them to hand out. Thank you to the great Buffy Summers for saying so many things that apply to both literal and metaphorical demon-slaying.







IMG_2764 (1)A big thank you to the years of effective care and treatment behind me, and to the medications that allow me to get out of bed every day and function. Other than my laptop, the most important thing I packed for Teen Lit Con was my anxiety medication that I needed to pop before I could get up and speak in front of people. Thanks, science!





Posted around Chaska High School.

I’m going to post a few relevant statistics slide from my presentation here (click on the pictures to enlarge the slides). My presentation was a mix of the reasons why good, accurate, and compassionate mental health depiction in young adult literature is so vitally important; a look at the staggering statistics about teen mental health; and a rundown of just some of the many YA books I recommend that get mental health rep right. I also made handouts (because I love handouts) with YA titles that deal with mental health. Those are available here: Teen Lit Con 2018 handouts MHYALit and 2018 TLC Additional handoutSchools and libraries, please feel free to reproduce these and share these, but please leave my credit at the bottom of the page. 






My pal Dezra brought me this on Saturday. She couldn’t have known I would talk about feeling like a superhero in my talk. Sometimes you just share a brain with your pals.












As has happened each time I’ve given a presentation on this topic, people came up to talk to me afterwards to share their stories or thank me for speaking out about a topic that still carries so much shame and stigma. All of those conversations after I talk are so important to me, but it’s the one with actual teenagers that really get me. One teen quietly asked me, “But how do I actually get some help if my parents don’t think there’s anything wrong with me?” Oof. As people waited to talk to me after, one attendee slipped me a note of thanks. Those conversations, those hugs, those notes are all so meaningful to me. If there is any one upside of living with mental illness (and believe me, it’s pretty hard to find one), it’s that I get to speak up about something so vitally important and help people feel less alone.


I had a long conversation after my morning presentation with a teacher who is advocating HARD for increased support and understanding of the mental health challenges her students are facing. We talked about using the privilege we have to speak up while so many others can’t. As a white middle class woman with lots of resources and support, I feel like it’s my duty to talk about something that remains so hard for others to talk about. I’ve somehow developed an impenetrable shell around me, one that doesn’t let the constant shame and stigma the world hurls at mentally ill people to get to me. There are so many who want to listen and who want to talk. There are so many who are so relieved to not feel alone. We’re not alone in this fight. The reminder is so powerful.


We had such a great day at Teen Lit Con. As a pretty hardcore introvert, being on display like that, socializing that much, drained me. But I can’t think of a better reason to feel totally tapped out than hanging out with people who love YA books. I can’t wait to do it all again next year!


(This post is cross-posted on my personal blog, amandamacgregor.net. Hop on over there to see lots of pictures of my three dachshunds, reviews of adult books I’m reading, parenting meltdowns, plenty of talk about mental health, and many more random thoughts.)

#MHYALit: Small Towns and Mental Illness, a guest post by This is Not a Love Letter author Kim Purcell

Today we are honored to have a guest post by author Kim Purcell. She is discussing with us the topic of small towns and mental health. She is also generously offering to give away one copy of THIS IS NOT A LOVE LETTER, which comes out tomorrow, January 30th, from Disney Hyperion.


In This Is Not a Love Letter, I wanted to talk about the issues of living with a mental illness in a small or isolated community. I grew up in an isolated, medium-sized mill town in Northern British Columbia.

Growing up, there was a stigma against seeking therapy and medicine for mental health issues. It’s gotten better now, everywhere, but small or isolated communities still have this problem.

In my research, I found that small towns statistically have more mental health issues, and these issues go untreated. Studies have shown that suburban teens also have higher rates of depression and anxiety, and rural teens commit suicide at twice the rate of their urban peers. In smaller communities, teens are more likely to turn to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate.

Is there something about living in a small community that leads to mental health issues? Is there anything we can do?

It turns out that it’s a combination of many factors. In any smaller environment, there are fewer therapists and psychologists. People are less likely to seek help due to the lack of anonymity and the stigma. Sometimes there are long waiting lists for the one psychiatrist in the region. In rural areas, it is compounded by poverty and a lack of health insurance.

On top of all this, smaller communities are particularly difficult for anyone who steps outside of the norm, who looks or acts differently. If you can’t conform, it can be a struggle. I found it difficult to conform, to be “normal”. Also, everyone knows and judges your business, and bullies are very hard to escape.

When I started writing This Is Not a Love Letter, I was living in a small village suburb of New York City with my husband and kids. We only lived there for two years, but I was alone too much, and I started to feel depressed. On top of that, I remembered all the ways that living in an isolated environment was difficult for me growing up, and also for my friend Al, who went missing right before graduation. This story is based on that time in my life.

In some ways, writing this book there helped me dive into the growing desperation of my main character, Jessie, as she starts to fear the very worst. As I looked around, I saw other women who were depressed, but nobody was talking about it. The place lacked the joy of the city. Mothers were held up to an impossible standard and this bled down to the kids. Children with mental health issues were socially isolated, and their mothers were seen as failing. There was an incredible amount of pressure on everyone.

For example, one friend of mine was a hoarder. It was untreated and hidden for years. This inspired the hoarder environment that Jessie lives in. It was how I processed her desperate situation. Fortunately, she did drive to get help, eventually.

In this book, I wanted to take the reader into the life of a small-town person, and to reach out to people in those small towns and tell them they aren’t alone, that it’s important to seek help, even if you have to travel to get it. Also, you can move to a bigger environment, where you’ll find other people like you, and it will change your life for the better. I have lived in Vancouver, Seoul, New York City, Guadalajara and Los Angeles, and I can tell you it’s a big difference. It’s great to be accepted for exactly who you are. So, if you’re a teen, just hang on, talk to your doctor, get help, and reach out to others online.

And if things get too hard, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.


One week. That’s all Jessie said. A one-week break to get some perspective before graduation, before she and her boyfriend, Chris, would have to make all the big, scary decisions about their future–decisions they had been fighting about for weeks.

Then, Chris vanishes. The police think he’s run away, but Jessie doesn’t believe it. Chris is popular and good-looking, about to head off to college on a full-ride baseball scholarship. And he disappeared while going for a run along the river–the same place where some boys from the rival high school beat him up just three weeks ago. Chris is one of the only black kids in a depressed paper mill town, and Jessie is terrified of what might have happened.

As the police are spurred to reluctant action, Jessie speaks up about the harassment Chris kept quiet about and the danger he could be in. But there are people in Jessie’s town who don’t like the story she tells, who are infuriated by the idea that a boy like Chris would be a target of violence. They smear Chris’s character and Jessie begins receiving frightening threats.

Every Friday since they started dating, Chris has written Jessie a love letter. Now Jessie is writing Chris a letter of her own to tell him everything that’s happening while he’s gone. As Jessie searches for answers, she must face her fears, her guilt, and a past more complicated than she would like to admit.

Publishes January 30, 2018 from Disney Hyperion. ISBN: 9781484798348

Meet Author Kim Purcell

Kim Purcell has written two young adult books, Trafficked (Penguin) and This Is Not a Love Letter (Hyperion). She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, two kids, two dogs and three cats. She loves dancing in elevators, swimming in lakes, drinking hot tea and eating chocolate chips with almonds.

Comment below to be entered to win a copy of This is Not a Love Letter by author Kim Purcell. Please enter by February 6th. Open to U.S. residents. One randomly selected winner will receive a copy of This is Not a Love Letter. You will be contacted via email. Do the Rafflecopter thingy to enter.

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Sunday Reflections: When You’re a Teen and a Friend Threatens Suicide

Trigger Warning: Suicide, Suicidal Ideation


We spent all of 2016 talking about teens and mental health and it occurs to me, we never talked about what happens when you are a teenager and your friend threatens to commit suicide. This point became painfully clear to me this past Friday night when this very event happened to The Teen.


The #MHYALit Discussion Hub – Mental Health in Young Adult Literature

At about 3 a.m. I received a text from The Teen – I’m in another state at the moment – where she said, “Mommy, I need you. I don’t know what to do.” A friend of her was texting her that they were going to commit suicide because the world would be better off without them. I jumped up immediately and called my daughter because I understood that this was an emergency, for both her and her friend. So I called and my daughter could barely talk through the crying. She really didn’t know much about this person except for their name and phone number, they just met this year at school and they are friends in the way that many teens are in 2017. They hang out at school and text, but they don’t they’ve never been to each other’s homes and they don’t really know much about each other.

So, not knowing how to get a hold of the parents, I did the only thing I could think to do and I called the local police and reported that a teenager was considering suicide and asked them to make sure this person was okay. This bit was tricky because we couldn’t answer any of their questions. A name and number is all we could provide.

I will be honest and tell you that I was motivated not only for concern for this teen and his well being, but for my own. I knew and understood that if we did nothing and it turned out that this teen did end up harmed in some way, my daughter would never be okay. I have mentioned here before that almost two years ago my high school best friend died by suicide and it will never not haunt me. Unlike my daughter I had no idea, but I still wrestle with guilt and wondering what signs I missed. I want more than anything to spare her this burden. So I did the only thing I could think to do.

My daughter has grown up in a home where we talk about mental health issues and she knows that they are real and serious, but not shameful. I myself struggle with depression and anxiety issues. I myself have had some periods of suicidal ideation. She is aware of all of this. So when this friend reached out to her, she understood what was happening, she just didn’t know what to do. And to be honest, I didn’t either. When I am in my darkest places, I tend to shut down and turn inward. But I recognized that this teen was issuing a cry for help, we just didn’t know how, exactly, to help them. And I reminded her again and again that she, a mere teenager herself, was not equipped to help him.

Afterwards, we talked a lot about what it means to be a friend to someone struggling with a mental health issues. We talked about responsibility and saving, and how in the end, we are not and can not be responsible for another person’s mental health and happiness. It’s a harsh truth that I have come to understand for myself, I and I alone am responsible for me. That doesn’t mean I don’t cherish the support of others (because I genuinely do) and that we shouldn’t give it to others when we can (because we can and should), but at the end of the day no one else can save or heal me. I needed her to understand that although she can and should be a good friend to this person, that if something ever does happen to them it is not her fault.


So here’s the take away of what I told her and think we should tell all teens regarding a friend who expresses suicidal ideation. Please keep in mind, I am not a legal or medical professional and this is what I did and some research (links at the bottoms) indicate that I did a pretty decent job of handling the situation.

1. Tell an adult immediately. Even if you promised not to tell, tell someone.

2. Always, if it is an emergency, call 911 immediately. If you have reason to suspect someone has just done something that is life threatening, call 911.

3. The adult should contact the parent of the individual if they know how. Otherwise, they should contact the police in the area where the teen expressing suicidal ideation resides. Let them know that you have a child who has been in contact with someone who has expressed that they may commit suicide and ask that they do a safety check.

4. Have as much information as you know ready about the individual when you contact the police. Name, number, address, parents, etc.

5. Afterwards, remind the teen that telling an adult was the right thing to do. Help them understand that telling an adult was the right thing even if it has negative consequences (for example, their friend may get in trouble with their parents). It is possible that this person will be upset and angry, it may even end the friendship. Do not feel guilty. You are doing what you can to help someone who has just expressed that their life is in jeopardy, that is never wrong.

6. Let your teen know that if the friendship does continue moving forward, it’s okay to set boundaries for yourself. For example, while being an engaged and supportive friend is encouraged, they are not allowed to put you in this position again or use guilt against you. Being in a friendship with a person who struggles with depression and anxiety is hard, and I can look at a lot of my past relationships and see ways in which I have harmed my past friends – it’s part of the illness that can take a while to figure out and learn to better navigate – but the person on the other side of the friendship 100% gets to have their own personal boundaries to maintain their own emotional health and well being. Always, always talk with teens about healthy relationships and personal boundaries.

More Resources:

Suicide Prevention: How to Help Someone who is Suicidal

My Friend Is Talking About Suicide. What Should I Do? – KidsHealth

Helping a Friend Who is Talking About Suicide | Psychology Today

#MHYALit: Seven Responses for Those Left Behind, a guest post by author Kat Colmer


Today we are honored to host author Kat Colmer as part of the #MHYALit Discussion. See all of the posts in our Mental Health in Young Adult Literature series here or by clicking on the #MHYALit tag below.

The release of Thirteen Reasons Why on Netflix earlier this year has thrust the issue of teen suicide into the mainstream. Whatever your viewpoint is on the show itself, any discussion around the issue should be encouraged, and although the main focus should remain on the prevention of teen suicide, there is another side to the conversation that is addressed less often—the effect of death by suicide of a loved one on those left behind.


The main character of The Third Kiss, a young adult paranormal romance, is very much affected and shaped by the suicide of his father. Learning to live with the loss following the suicide of a loved one is far from easy, and those left behind are in need of understanding and support to process and move forward from what may easily be one of the most traumatic events of their lives.

Jonas, the hero of The Third Kiss, reacts mainly with anger and avoidance to his father’s death by suicide. His feelings are a response to the pain he doesn’t want to feel. They deeply influence his actions to the point where he almost loses the one person that’s most important to him. His emotions are a sample of the kaleidoscope of reactions that people experience.Read on for an explanation to these, as well as other common responses to the suicide death of someone important to us:


The hallmark of grief, this emotional reaction is likely to involve a deeply personal experience of anguish, heartache and despair. Put simply, it hurts to lose someone we love. How this presents will depend on the person; there may be tears, or they may not cry at all. They may mourn openly, or they may mourn only in private. They may be a dark ball of melancholy, or a streak of agitated energy. Every one of these responses is normal.


This is overwhelmingly the most common response. What if… If only… I should have seen it… I should have said something… Guilt shouts all these scenarios loudly, underscoring the belief that a loved one needed our help and we didn’t see it, or didn’t do anything to help.


A difficult, but completely normal, reaction to the loss of someone you love ending their life. This can be anger at the person who has died: ‘So selfish! How could he do this to us?’, or anger at others: ‘Why didn’t you do something?’ In some cases, anger can turn to rage, often expressed as physical violence directed at objects.


A normal stages of grief, denial is our way of protecting ourselves. Disbelief that something so tragic has occurred is frequently expressed by those who are left behind, often describing a feeling that their loved one will ‘walk into the room any minute’ or ‘she’ll be there when I get home, on the computer like she always is.’


An unexpected loss, particularly when a loved one has chosen to leave us, rocks and shatters your world. What you assumed was solid, safe, and reliable turns out to be a lie. This is frightening, because it makes you question the reliability of all your other assumptions about life. Add this to trying to process significant events when your brain in overloaded with emotion, and the world becomes a confusing place that is difficult to untangle and trust.


Pain hurts. All these emotions are distressing to experience. Avoidance is one way we protect ourselves from discomfort. A person may avoid talking about the loss or the person or the circumstances surrounding their death, sometimes for years to come.


The wish for something different. The overwhelming longing that things had gone another way, that a different choice was made, but mostly that the one we’ve lost was still here.

These responses are not exhaustive, but are ones to look out for when supporting somebody who has lost a loved one through suicide. If you, or anyone you know, has lost someone close, make sure to seek help when feeling down. Reach out to a friend, a trusted adult, or find a health professional you feel comfortable talking to.


About The Third Kiss:

Love curses don’t exist. At least that’s what Jonas, master of the meaningless hookup, tells himself when a letter warns him he’s an Eros Guardian cursed to endure a test of true love or forever be alone. His levelheaded longtime friend Cora figures it’s a revenge prank by an ex. The way Jonas stamps each girlfriend with a weeklong use-by date, it serves him right.

But when an impulsive kiss between the two friends reveals potential for more, Cora becomes the target of the Groth Maar: demons sent to wipe out the Eros Guardian line. And suddenly the curse becomes dangerously real.

Breaking the curse means Jonas’s biggest challenge yet. Failure guarantees Cora’s death. But success may cost him his own life…and the loss of his carefully guarded heart to the one girl far too sensible to fall for him.

Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | Entangled Publishing

About the Author:


Kat Colmer is a Sydney-based Young and New Adult author who writes coming-of-age stories with humor and heart. The recipient of several writing awards, she has won the Romance Writers of Australia First Kiss contest, as well as the Romance Writers of America On the Far Side contest for her debut Young Adult Paranormal Romance.

Kat has a Master of Education in Teacher Librarianship and loves working with teens and young adults. When not writing, teaching, or reading the latest in YA fiction, Kat spends time with her husband and two children.

Website | Instagram |  Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Entangled Publishing

Thank you to PsychWriter Tamar Sloan for contributing her psychology expertise in the writing of this article. Find out more at https://psychwriter.com.au

Sunday Reflections: When the Opioid Crisis Hits the Library


Like many libraries across the country, we talk frequently at mine about the opioid crisis happening across the U.S. and in our local communities. We have had a couple of people OD in our library and we have had to call the squad, but not nearly as much as other libraries have. We have also had to call the police for suspected dealing.

YA titles dealing with the topic of addiction

YA titles dealing with the topic of addiction

As a librarian, I have been trying to use my research ninja skills to find some concrete statistics about how bad, exactly, the epidemic is, but good stats are surprisingly hard to find. A law enforcement officer in another Ohio community I used to live said that community has about 10 overdoses (without death) a day. I hear the one I work in has one a day. Several counties in Ohio have high national ranking for how bad the crisis is in that area.

Opioid Epidemic: A State by State Look at a National Crisis

Opioid Addiction 2016 Facts & Figures – American Society of Addiction

About the Epidemic | HHS.gov

Understanding the Epidemic | Drug Overdose | CDC Injury Center

Responding to the Opioid Morbidity and Mortality Crisis – FDA

Ohio has also been in the news as many communities wrestle with how to respond to the crisis. A local sheriff refuses to allow his men to carry and administer a life saving drug while in Philadelphia these librarians carry and administer that very same drug. Part of the debate surrounding who, if anyone, should be saved, is this idea that drug addiction is a moral personal failing as opposed to a disease. Whether or not you think we should work to save the lives of and treat or incarcerate the victims of overdoses depends on your view of what, exactly, addiction is and how it happens.

The Neurobiology of Opioid Dependence: Implications for Treatment

Big mystery: What causes addiction? | NBC News

Addiction vs Physical Dependence – Important distinction – NAABT

My community has put together a task force who recently did a series of community training sessions about the topic of the opioid crisis and its impact on our local community. While at this training I met the parents of a young man in his twenties who had died from an overdose. He was a college educated man who wore a suit every day to his very successful job. He looked nothing like the pictures of what an addict looks like that the officers were sharing and they were there in part to dispel that myth. As the opioid crisis worsens, our understanding of seems to shift.

real talk addiction brochure 2

real talk addiction brochure 1

At the training I learned a variety of equally horrifying and interesting facts. Much of the drug trafficking in our community occurs via bicycle because it is easier to evade the police. Some drugs are made in Gatorade and water bottles which can explode if touched so we should teach our children not to be good environmental citizens and pick up said bottles to place them in the trash but to avoid them and call the police, just in case. Something like 95% of all local crime can be linked back to the opioid epidemic as people become violent, or engage in various petty crimes to steal money to fuel their addiction. This epidemic is severely impacting and taxing local communities at all levels, whether it be emergency responders or its impact on our children.

The opioid crisis is straining the nation’s foster-care systems

It’s important for us to remember that there are real people being impacted by the opioid crisis. One of my regular teens recently shared that she watched her mother overdose on the front lawn. She called for help and her mother was then in a treatment center. This was my teen, a girl I have watched grow up, sharing this heartbreaking story of watching her mother overdose on the lawn.

This is a great YA title on addiction (alcohol addiction)

This is a great YA title on addiction (alcohol addiction)

We talk frequently about the best policies and procedures going forward for our library in the midst of this epidemic. A library I worked at previously recently put in a sharps disposal box in the restrooms as an employee had been stabbed by a needle and they wanted to prevent it from happening in the future. We have discussed things likes narcan (we do not have this on hand primarily due to cost and concerns about life saving responsibilities), when to call the police, how to respond if we see someone using or dealing, how to dispose of drugs we find left in the bathroom and more. It’s an ongoing discussion, and one I have never had in my twenty-three plus years of working in libraries. And yet here we are.

Like many libraries and many people, I find myself wrestling with this information on a daily basis. I certainly don’t have any answers, but I think we should be talking about it more. I can’t help but think of what happens to this generation of children moving forward. When we start using words like crisis and epidemic, it’s past time to start acting.

Social Justice and Mental Health: Accessibility to Treatment in YA Literature, a guest post by Alyssa Chrisman

Today we are honored to present to you a Mental Health in YA Literature guest post that looks at the accessibility to treatment in YA literature. You can read all the #MHYALit posts here or by clicking on the tag below.


When I was 12-years-old, I went to therapy for the first time. Seventh grade is a notoriously tumultuous year, and although I hardly remember the sessions now, I believe they were helpful in a way I didn’t quite understand then. As I have aged, I have weaved in and out of multiple types of mental health treatment as needed. Even in moments where it seemed like recovery was not possible, books like Ned Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story inspired me to speak up and ask for help. Now that I am an adult studying YAL, I have immense gratitude for the positive impact books like that had on my life and am an advocate for diverse YA books featuring mental health topics. As Teen Librarian Toolbox’s 2016 #MHYAL (Mental Health in Young Adult Literature) project illustrates, issues of mental health are prevalent in YAL, especially in recent publications. Most mental illnesses are represented somewhere within this body of texts, but one important aspect is often overlooked: teenage accessibility to affordable and quality care. I was, and am, lucky to have access to mental health treatment through affordable medication and quality therapists, yet that is not the case for many Americans. By considering the intersectionality of mental health and social justice in quality YAL texts, practitioners can help teens think critically about issues affecting their worlds.

Recently, I completed a thesis on representations of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in YAL. I found that most of the protagonists in these texts are privileged in some way. They often have supportive families (at least by the end of the novel) and appear to be in the middle-upper class. Because of these privileges, the protagonists of most of these novels are able to receive the medical care they need in the form of therapy, medication, and even hospitalization. Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, the protagonists in these texts are also racially privileged through their whiteness. While mental illness affects people across all genders, races, ages, and class levels equally, a recent study showed that “young people in general aren’t likely to see mental health specialists. But the numbers fell further when racial and ethnic backgrounds were factored in. About 5.7 percent of white children and young adults were likely to see a mental health specialist in a given year, compared with about 2.3 percent for black or Hispanic young people” (Luthra). Young adults of oppressed racial and class backgrounds have multiple factors working against them when trying to receive adequate psychological care. They have issues that affect all minors, such as getting parental or adult support, but they also have to overcome systemic problems more likely to negatively affect them, such as a lack of quality health insurance coverage and a high cost of care. By only featuring characters who are white, are economically advantaged, and have a fair amount of parental support, YAL as a whole is not providing literature that accurately represents many teenagers’ lives and is missing out on a significant opportunity.

I believe that mental health representation in YAL is critical, and practitioners who work with young readers should make these texts accessible. However, I argue that practitioners, especially librarians and teachers, also have a responsibility to recognize aspects of privilege within the texts they suggest and to identify what may be lacking. Mental health representation is important, but a person is never just their mental illness. Intersectionality is realistic, and the protagonist’s race, sexuality, and class can affect them just as much as their mental illness or other disability. By looking at what types of identities are lacking in this YAL, we can construct our conversations with teenagers in more meaningful ways. Recognizing a lack of class issues in these novels can help teenagers understand social justice in the context of mental health. I recommend pairing two novels, both featuring protagonists with OCD, together to open up discussion of these issues: Matt de la Peña’s Ball Don’t Lie (2005) and Tamara Ireland Stone’s Every Last Word (2015). Warning: plot spoilers ahead!

balldontlieBall Don’t Lie is written in third-person and tells the story of Sticky, a white teenager in the foster system, who spends his days at school, playing basketball at the local community center, and with his girlfriend, An-thu. A diagnosis of OCD (nor a suspicion of its existence) is not mentioned at all in the novel itself. However, readers familiar with OCD can assume that Sticky’s repetitive actions, such as unplugging and replugging his headphones until it feels just right, would be interpreted as compulsions by a medical professional (de la Peña 231). Most importantly, “obsessive-compulsive disorder” is the second tag for the book, alleviating readers from the inappropriate job of having to diagnose Sticky by doing it for us. At the climax of the novel, Sticky’s compulsions result in him getting shot in the hand. He wants to get An-thu a piece of jewelry for her birthday, but he cannot afford it. Although he initially intends to steal it from the store, he decides to steal money from a person on the street instead. When he starts compulsively counting the four hundred dollars over and over, “he freezes. He can’t move. He hasn’t counted right. He hasn’t stacked the bills right. He hasn’t done anything the way it needs to be done, and his body won’t let him move on to the next step” (258).  He continues to count, and the person he robbed catches up to him and shoots him in the hand. He is hospitalized for his injury, but his compulsions go unnoticed and untreated. The reason for this is not explicitly stated, but an assumption could be made that Sticky’s lack of adequate adult support, as well as his lack of class privilege and impoverished community, contribute. Sticky has a happy ending when he physically recovers from the injury, but it is difficult not to imagine these compulsions continuing to affect him as he transitions to playing basketball for a university.

everylastwordSam, the protagonist of Every Last Word, tells her story in first person and has been diagnosed with OCD prior to the start of the novel. She takes medication and has a therapist, a prominent character in the book. From the beginning, it is evident that she also has support from her mother. In the prologue, Sam is cutting flowers with her friends when she starts to worry that she may cut one of her friends with the scissors, a type of obsession that is manifested in some people with OCD. She escapes to the kitchen where her mother helps her work through the obsession, all while keeping what is happening private from Sam’s friends. Once Sam has calmed down, her mom assures her that she loves her and says, “Whatever you’re thinking, it’s okay. It doesn’t mean anything about you. Got it? Now tell me.” Sam thinks, “The two of us have been here before. It hasn’t happened in a long time, not like this, but Mom slips right into her assigned role as if it’s second nature. She’s well trained” (7). Sam’s mom then leads Sam through exposure therapy by having her hold a pair of scissors. In the author’s note, Stone reveals: “While there are hints in the text itself, it is important to me that readers understand that prior to this scene, (1) Sue [Sam’s therapist] has led Sam through exposure therapy sessions in her office, (2) Sue has formally trained Sam’s mother, so she can provide the 24/7 support Sam might require, and (3) Sue and Sam’s mother operate as a team and are in constant communication about managing Sam’s disorder” (357). Interestingly, Sam’s family appears very little throughout the rest of the novel (although her therapist plays a larger role). However, this interaction between Sam and her mom in the prologue, as well as the additional information provided in the author’s note, shows that Sam’s mom is positioned as a character who loves Sam and gives her the tools and experiences she needs to recover safely. This type of support system between parent and therapist is ideal for a young adult working through the struggles of OCD. Sam is privileged in that she has accessibility to quality care in multiple aspects of her life, which greatly contributes to her recovery.

These two protagonists lead very different lives. Sam has the support of her mother, while Sticky has lived in several foster homes and currently lives with a family who sees him simply as a means of gaining income. Throughout the novel, Sam’s therapist supports her, but Sticky does not receive help—in fact, he is never even diagnosed with OCD. This lack of care is particularly frustrating for readers who hope that he will get help when he is hospitalized for his injuries, but his mental illness is overlooked, potentially a result of his class status. Very few YA novels about mental health discuss issues of class, and even fewer include protagonists from diverse races. As a person who has personally benefited from multiple types of treatment at various stages of my life—and as a person who simply cares about the well being of teenagers— I believe that all people suffering from mental illness should have such an opportunity for recovery. Looking at Ball Don’t Lie and Every Last Word together can help teenagers better understand how social justice issues impact teenagers with mental illness and hopefully even inspire youth-led campaigns and activism for the cause.

What do you think? Are there any other books you would recommend pairing together? Is there an exemplar YA novel that illustrates how class, race, etc. can affect mental health treatment? Leave a comment below!

Works Cited

De la Peña, Matt. Ball Don’t Lie. Ember, 2005.

Luthra, Shefali. “Race, Ethnicity Affect Kids’ Access to Mental Health Care, Study Finds.” Kaiser Health News, 12 Aug. 2016, http://khn.org/news/race-ethnicity-affect- kids-access-to-mental-health-care-study/

Stone, Tamara Ireland. Every Last Word. Hyperion, 2015.

Meet Our Guest Blogger

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Alyssa Chrisman is a 26-year-old living in Columbus, OH. A former secondary English teacher in Memphis, she just received a M.A. in Teaching and Learning from the Ohio State University and is about to start their Ph.D. program in Literature for Children and Young Adults. When she is not doing schoolwork, she is probably spending time with her fiancé and three dogs. Sometimes she updates her Twitter and blog: @radwarriorgirl/(http://www.radwarriorgirl.com).

About the Books

Ball Don’t Lie by Matt da le Pena

Newbery Award-winning author Matt de la Pena’s Ball Don’t Lie about basketball “is a must-read.” [The Bulletin]

Sticky is a beat-around-the-head foster kid with nowhere to call home but the street, and an outer shell so tough that no one will take him in. He started out life so far behind the pack that the finish line seems nearly unreachable. He’s a white boy living and playing in a world where he doesn’t seem to belong.
But Sticky can ball. And basketball might just be his ticket out . . . if he can only realize that he doesn’t have to be the person everyone else expects him to be.
Matt de la Peña’s breakout urban masterpiece, Ball Don’t Lie takes place where the street and the court meet and where a boy can be anything if he puts his mind to it.

[STAR] “[An] inspiring story. Sticky is a true original, and de la Peña has skillfully brought him to life.”-School Library Journal, Starred

Riveting…Teens will be strongly affected by the unforgettable, distinctly male voice; the thrilling, unusually detailed basketball action; and the questions about race, love, self-worth, and what it means to build a life without advantages.”-Booklist

Stunningly realistic, this book will hook older readers, especially urban teen males.”-VOYA

“The characters live and breath…This is a must-read.“-The Bulletin

“De la Peña does an excellent job of combining the streets with the sport. Gritty and mesmerizing.“-Kirkus Reviews

“I have never before seen blacktop ball depicted so well. In this novel, you will find its flash, its power, and its elegance without chains. This is powerful stuff.”-Antawn Jamison, forward for the Los Angeles Clippers

From the very first sentence, this book grabbed me and didn’t let go. The deeper I got into it, the more I felt like Sticky’s story was my story. His heart, his handle, the guys in the gym, his potential pitfalls, his dreams. All of it. In a weird sense, this is my life.”-Grayson Boucher (“The Professor”) of tha AND 1 Mix Tape Tour

“Truly authentic in its examination of both the game I love and the invariable missteps toward manhood. You cannot fail to be moved by the eloquence and truth of this story.“-Rick Fox, former forward for the Los Angeles Lakers

An ALA Best Book for Young Adults

An ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers

(Ember, 2005)

Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone

If you could read my mind, you wouldn’t be smiling.

Samantha McAllister looks just like the rest of the popular girls in her junior class. But hidden beneath the straightened hair and expertly applied makeup is a secret that her friends would never understand: Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD and is consumed by a stream of dark thoughts and worries that she can’t turn off.

Second-guessing every move, thought, and word makes daily life a struggle, and it doesn’t help that her lifelong friends will turn toxic at the first sign of a wrong outfit, wrong lunch, or wrong crush. Yet Sam knows she’d be truly crazy to leave the protection of the most popular girls in school. So when Sam meets Caroline, she has to keep her new friend with a refreshing sense of humor and no style a secret, right up there with Sam’s weekly visits to her psychiatrist.

Caroline introduces Sam to Poet’s Corner, a hidden room and a tight-knit group of misfits who have been ignored by the school at large. Sam is drawn to them immediately, especially a guitar-playing guy with a talent for verse, and starts to discover a whole new side of herself. Slowly, she begins to feel more “normal” than she ever has as part of the popular crowd . . . until she finds a new reason to question her sanity and all she holds dear. (Disney Hyperion, 2015)