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Book Reivew: Charm and Strange by Stephanie Khuen

This book is an amazingly well written and profound story, but it is incredibly difficult to read, unsettling. It is an amazing example of the power of books to make us think about difficult topics. You can find a discussion guide here.
“She must have seen more of my charm than my strangeness tonight.” 

Publisher’s Description:  

No one really knows who Andrew Winston Winters is. Least of all himself. He is part Win, a lonely teenager exiled to a remote boarding school in the wake of a family tragedy. The guy who shuts the whole world out, no matter the cost, because his darkest fear is of himself …of the wolfish predator within. But he’s also part Drew, the angry boy with violent impulses that control him. The boy who, one fateful summer, was part of something so terrible it came close to destroying him. A deftly woven, elegant, unnerving psychological thriller about a boy at war with himself. Charm and Strange is a masterful exploration of one of the greatest taboos.

My thoughts:

Charm and Strange is told by flashing from the present to the past in alternating chapters.  In the present, Win is attending a boarding school where a murder has taken place. He is struggling to hold himself together, thinking that on the next full moon he will surely turn into a horrible monster because it is his family’s curse. In the past, we are living the summer when he and his brother went to go live with his grandparents, building up to the reveal of what, exactly, happened that summer.

“She loves us all.”
“Then why doesn’t she act like it?”
“Because love doesn’t always look nice.” 

The writing in this book is truly astounding. The storytelling is complex. And it has one of the most devastating scenes I have ever read in a book. It is not graphic, but there is no doubt as to what is happening and then there is full and complete understanding of who Win is and why.  It is almost as if Win has developed some type of dis-associative disorder to protect himself and you both see that moment happening and see how it is used as a coping device. The mother also appears to suffer from some extreme depression, though it is never called this, so you can see glimpses of mental illness coursing through the veins of this family and touching all of its members in various ways.

“Because blood is blood, and every family has its own force.
Its own flavor.
Its own charm and strange.”

After I finished the final chapter on this book I couldn’t read anything for a few days afterwards, I just felt completely shattered for this young man. It is an important and stark look at the damage that is left in the wake of sexual violence. This book is deeply relevant and unique because it explores a type of sexual violence that is often overlooked in YA literature, but unfortunately we know it happens far too often in the real world.

Charm and Strange is also is also very important because, like books like The Gospel of Winter by Brendan Kiely and the books on this list, it reminds us all that boys can and are often the victims of sexual violence. It is also a profound and important look at the confusion and destruction left in its wake. Some of the difficult topics include sexual violence, allusions to mental illness, and suicide.


Daniel Kraus says, “Debut author Kuehn comes out swinging with this confident, unnerving look at a damaged teen struggling with something violent inside of him” (Booklist, June 1, 2013). This literary look at sexual violence is a compelling and highly recommended read.

Stephanie Khuen will be joining us on March 26th for our next SVYALit Google Hangout on Air.

Sunday Reflections: Why Talking About the Age of Consent Matters

I didn’t have to even stop and think about it that day.  I was sitting on the Reference Desk when a woman came in and said she was concerned because she had seen what she thought was a pretty young girl kissing a grown man outside the library. I walked over and saw them walking away through the window, and I knew who they both were. The girl was no older than 14 and the man was most definitely a grown up. So I turned around, picked up the phone and called the police. I told them that a patron had said they were kissing and that the left together. The police came immediately and took our statements. It was determined that a crime was in progress and the police got the man’s name and tracked them down.  I called for one reason and one reason only, if I read in the paper the next day that that girl was found raped and murdered I knew 100% that I would have been in a position to stop it and I didn’t. So I did.  I didn’t know for sure what was happening, but I knew enough to be scared and called the police and let them deal with it.  They did come back and tell us that they were found together and the man was arrested. I know nothing beyond that.

But here’s the thing: She was 14-years old and he was an adult. Not kind of an adult, but a man in his 20s adult.

I remember being 14. I remember having feelings I didn’t quite know yet what to do with them. I remember thinking my Latin teacher was cute. I remember thinking that various movie and music stars were “hot”. I remember wondering and questioning and trying to figure out in my head what it all meant. But the difference was that there was not a grown up in my life using my confusion and naivete to his advantage. And that’s why the age of consent matters.

I just finished reading POINTE by Brandy Colbert and this book is an excellent example of what is known as grooming.  Grooming is “the process by which an offender draws a victim into a sexual relationship and maintains that relationship in secrecy. The shrouding of the relationship is an essential feature of grooming” (Source: http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Child-Sexual-Abuse-6-Stages-of-Grooming).

According to Dr. Michael Welner, there are 6 stages of grooming:

1. Targeting
2. Gaining trust
3. Filling a need
4. Isolating the child
5. Sexualizing the relationship
6. Maintaining control

These are expanded on here: http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Child-Sexual-Abuse-6-Stages-of-Grooming. But like sharks, these men (and yes, sometimes women) are predators looking for easy prey.

In Pointe, Theo is an amazing, dedicated ballet dancer. When we meet her, she is 17.  Her best friend Donovan has been missing for 4 years and then he suddenly returns. Except he’s not talking about what happened. But when Theo sees a picture of who he has been with the past 4 years, she’s not sure what to believe.  Soon she will be called to testified, and she is trying to figure out what the truth is and what she should say up there on the stand.

Grooming. It sounds so textbook . . . It’s hard for me to think of him as a perdator . . .” – Pointe, by Brandy Colbert (p. 127)

She is confused, and this is expertly depicted.  And in all of this, someone actually uses the word grooming. In fact, this book, in flashbacks, does a great job of helping readers understand what grooming is and the complex and conflicting emotions that it can cause. The Gospel of Winter by Brendan Kiely also does a great job of this. I highly recommend both of these titles. And I think it is important that we talk to teens about grooming in the same way that we need to talk to them about understanding commercials and how they are designed to sell a product. Information is power, and giving teens the information to see what may be happening is so very important to help stop it.

But what it also does is remind us all why the age of consent matters. It doesn’t matter if it looks on the outside if a child or young teen is consenting, because we have to understand that there are powerful dynamics at work here.  Dynamics that include an imbalance of power. Dynamics that include manipulation and isolation. Dynamics that play on the naivete and inexperience of these young people.

That is why we can’t have articles written that suggest that Chris Brown was quite the stud back when he was 8 and had sex with his babysitter. No, his babysitter raped him. This has been written about multiple times, include here. Part of the reason this narrative plays out is because we view male and female sexuality very differently. Teenage guys who get action are studs while the girls are sluts. But part of this is also because we still don’t acknowledge the extent of male rape, which does happen and it is just as horrific as when it happens to a female.

But part of it is also because we get all confused about the issue of underage consent. Consent isn’t just about age, it is also about the difference in age, which is why many state laws have the age of consent at 16 and there can not be a more than 3 year age difference. Because as that age gap widens, so does ones knowledge, experience and the power imbalance, making younger teens much easier to manipulate or deceive.  I remember being 16 and thinking I was so close to an adult, but 25 year old Karen realized in hindsight that 16 year old Karen really didn’t know squat.

When I was 15, I dated a boy who was “in a band”. Briefly. He was an adult, in college. And I mentioned that he was “in a band”, right? One night we went to go play miniature golf but he drove right past the course and took me to his an apartment.  He gave me this hand stitched pillow, which he said he made for me.  I knew there was no way he had made that pillow for me. None. So I asked him to take me home and I was lucky because he did. But a younger Karen would have been flattered, craving that attention. There are so many ways that day could have gone differently for me. And for many teens, it does.

Recently I was working with a teen volunteer who thought I was the “cool librarian”. So she told me she was grounded because she had been spending time with a 24-year-old man and her parents didn’t want him near her. She was 14. She assured me they were just friends and asked if she was my daughter would I let them be friends. This is what I said: “I can think of no good reason for a 24-year-old man to start up a friendship with a 14-year-old girl out of the blue. If this happened with my daughter, I would take away her phone, monitor her e-mail, and do everything I could to keep her safe. I can’t speak for your parents, but I think that any parent who saw this happening with their child would be rightfully suspicious and cautious.”

I could see it in her eyes, the way she was flattered by the attention of this older, cooler man. Because that too is the imbalance of power.  As Emily so eloquently states: “They were grooming me, but to that chubby, attention-starved teenage girl, their attentions felt a lot like love.” (Read the entire post The Myth of the Teenage Temptress, or Why a Young Girl Can Not Consent to Sex with an Adult Man)

Mama Bear has a good post for parents on protecting your children from pedophiles

SVYALit Project: Discussing THE S WORD by Chelsea Pitcher, a guest post by Lourdes Keochgerien

“Maybe the first step to stomping out the world’s ugliness is dragging it into the light.” ~ Angie The S Word

I can’t pinpoint exactly when I started thinking about sexual violence/abuse. It was a topic that always remained in my peripheral vision – I don’t recall us discussing it in my sexual education class. But, when I joined Tumblr the topic began demanding my attention constantly and forced me to analyze my own thoughts. I think sometimes we are so engrossed in trying to smoke out the negative out of social media, the positive gets unnoticed.

But, in retrospect, I realize I was exposed to the topic before I even finished high school. I read young adult literature novels that tackled sexual violence/abuse – Chris Lynch’s Inexcusable, Barry Lyga’s Boy Toy, Laura Wiess’s Such a Pretty Girl – but having the reinforcement of reality now has made me see how important and necessary these books are. Exposure to this literature can and does prepare young adults to face head on what is possible in this, at times, treacherous world. It prepared me without my conscious acknowledgment. It has given me empathy – understanding and value. I can only understand to a degree, but I can value these voices and their experiences ad infinitum.

I recently finished reading Chelsea Pitcher’s fantastic The S Word. (Now, there are some spoilers ahead. Not massive ones, but here’s your head’s up.) The story centers on the recent suicide of Angie’s best friend Lizzie. We find out that Angie’s boyfriend, Drake, and Lizzie we caught in a compromised position during prom. As a result, Angie severs all relations with her best friend as Lizzie is labeled a “slut” by her classmates. It is etched onto her locker, her car, her very soul. It was too much for her to bear, especially with a religious background and the lack of any intervention from her peers.

One thing I noticed was how easily Lizzie’s peers labeled her a “slut.” There was no hesitation. There was not a moment of introspection. (And this is not a jab at teenagers. This is a comment on the word itself. It’s so normalized we overlook the need to ruminate.) The word just became who she was to the rest of the student body. Before prom, Lizzie was just in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She was the daughter of a preacher. (It should be noted that these are not great either. They are flat and one dimensional. Lizzie was much more than that.) Suddenly, she was just this one thing. It made me realize how common the word is, how quick we can be to allow that term existence, life.

“‘I don’t know.’ Cara looks at me finally. ‘It was just easy. You call some other girl a slut, and nobody’s looking at you anymore.’” ~ Cara, Angie’s cheerleading friend


This quotation just left me cold. It was just easy. The nonchalant way this was written by Pitcher made me shiver and was brilliantly done in order to drive the point home. It’s the passing of a burning, dangerous torch you never knew was circulating.  

We find out towards the end that Drake raped Lizzie. During prom. In a diary entry she states that it was not a stranger, but a friend, someone she had known since childhood that did this to her. Reading about sexual violence/abuse on the internet almost daily, I know this is not something fictitious. This happens. The way Lizzie can be so introspective after such a traumatic ordeal made me see her in a whole another light. It gave me a glimpse into the mind of someone who experiences such a life altering moment. But, I know, because of young adult literature, that there are many ways to cope after. I think Lizzie chose this route because she was used to silence in her life. Because of her father and his less-than-holy-activities. Because of her best friend. She did not want to hurt Angie. She did not want to hurt anyone. So she wrote.

The most jarring moment in this novel for me was when, at graduation, we see in electric blue letters the word RAPIST written on Drake’s gown – courtesy of Angie. The reaction? It was not shock. It was not distraught whispers. It was laughter. Laughter. I couldn’t comprehend how this was humanly possible. I assumed the internal dialogue was, “There is no way the most popular guy in school could be a rapist. The concept is utterly hilarious.” But when the word suddenly took a serious tone, it was no longer funny. It became difficult for people to say in the book. You can call someone a slut all you want, but a rapist. No, that is taking it too far. You need proof for the latter. The former, that is easy. This reality in the book and in our world just made me sad.

The last chapter of the novel is a journal entry from Lizzie, describing her excitement about the play. The book ends on this note of hope. Hope that passivity does not and will not prevail in similar circumstances. Hope that as readers and human beings we learn to understand and, especially, value what others have to say when they don’t say anything at all. This is why young adult literature is so magnetic and necessary – it reminds us, it reminds me, that the world is at times ugly yet beauty can be and will be found. Addressing sexual violence/abuse in young adult literature enables writers and readers to break down misconceptions and highlight, showcase, promote truth.

“‘So maybe it isn’t about doing what’s good. Maybe it’s about doing what’s necessary.’” ~ Jesse, in “cahoots” with Angie

Books like The S Word are necessary for dialogue about sexual violence/abuse, particularly for teenagers. It captures the world of high school in such a dynamic and powerful way. There is no sugar coating. There is instead a raw, emotional story about the consequences of assumption and passivity. I left this story feeling more informed, more aware, more human. YA never fails me in this regard.

Lourdes Keochgerien is the Editor-at Large for YARN, The Young Adult Review Network, where she has worked since its inception. After finishing her thesis on YA literature, she moved back to Uruguay with her family and now freelances creating Readers’ Guides and providing Spanish language consulting on manuscripts. She can be found at lkeochgerienwrites.blogspot.com.  

Sunday Reflections: Silence Hurts Everyone (Why don’t adults intervene more when abuse is suspected with further discussion on Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell)


Months ago we posted about Eleanor and Park, and I recently added that post to the SVYALit Tumblr page where it has had some interesting discussion.  One comment in particular has me thinking:

Not one able adult called Child Protective Services, the Police, a counselor – none. It’s not even clear that Eleanor’s Uncle and Aunt did (in fact, given that the town gossip doesn’t mention it, I assume they didn’t). And that really, really bothers me. It’s possible that they could have called and nothing would have happened, that’s true. But not one adult – and these were written as otherwise self-aware and proactive and responsible characters – even tried to do this, which just does not sit well with me.

In the end, I feel like all of the adults in Eleanor’s life failed her, for no particular reason other than no one thought to pick up a phone or talk to an expert on the subject. There’s nothing in the book that addresses this oversight, or makes it understandable to me. And that’s a thing that worries me: because, yes, it’s made clear that Eleanor’s situation, that the behavior of her stepfather is very, very wrong, but it also doesn’t do much of anything to show the reader how adults can help right this wrong.

And if the book had commented on the fact that adults sometimes – maybe quite often – fail to help teens in dire situations, I might be able to look past it. Instead, it doesn’t even address it. I know as an adult – one who as a teen had an unrelated adult intercede on my behalf to prevent the threatened abuse of a parent – I know exactly what I would have done, which was called the authorities. It may not have helped, but I would have at the very least tried, and I don’t know another responsible adult who wouldn’t. (From the Falcon’s Pen is Quick and Sharp Tumblr)

What I believe Genie Este is asking is why don’t the adults in Eleanor’s life – especially those who seem to indicate that they know something is wrong in her life – intervene on her behalf.  To be honest, it has been a while since I read E&P and when I did read it, this did not stand out to me.  But I want to talk a little bit about it.

When I first got married, at the age of 22, we lived in an apartment.  In the apartment next door to us lived a couple with a small daughter (maybe 2 or 3) and an infant boy.  There were a couple of nights where I told The Mr. that I thought the husband next door was beating his wife, and The Mr. suggested that I really didn’t know what I was hearing.  One night, I finally called the police.  When the police came to my door, they thought that I had been calling and using the “no, no it’s a friend” excuse because apparently people don’t call and report these things.  It took a long while for me to convince them that no, I wasn’t being beaten but that I thought the lady next door was.  This was my first real life experience with bystander apathy.

You see, we live in a culture where we are taught no to judge, not to be nosy, not to interfere.  How many times have you overheard a parent yelling at a toddler in the grocery aisle or even your library and heard them call that child stupid, worthless, and many other horrible things?  The truth is, many of us have and we do nothing.  Because we feel that it is not our place to do something.  Almost daily you can find some type of blog post or article reminding us that we shouldn’t judge the way others choose to live their lives – and this is true in most cases. But it shouldn’t be true when we see abuse happening.

BUT, we are also taught not to think badly of others, which makes it easier to be in denial when we have those little inklings of abuse in the backs of our brain.  Surely, we think to ourselves, I am misunderstanding things.  In The Gift of Fear (and also in Protecting the Gift), author Gavin DeBecker talks a lot about intuition and how we are taught over time as we grow up to suppress our intuition, in part because we are taught not to think badly of others – and this puts us all at risk.  And really, we don’t want to think of the possibility that our neighbors, our friends – our family – could be the type of people who might abuse someone.  So it can be easy to explain our nagging suspicions away.  So for The Mr., it was easy to suggest that maybe the man next door was just building a cabinet instead of beating his wife.  I think this is also part of the reason why we have mandatory reporting laws for educators – it can be so easy to explain things away, but making educators mandated reporters means that they are more likely to report those inklings rather than explain them away because their job security is tied into reporting.

So I guess, for me, it’s not hard to see that the adults in Eleanor’s life may on some level suspect that abuse is happening, but I can also see how they would fail to act on that suspicion.  People fail to act on those suspicions every. single. day.  And in many ways, we are enculturated to do exactly that.

1 in 6 has an interesting look at why adults often fail to protect children from sexual abuse by failing to acknowledge or report it:

As difficult as it may be to accept, there are many genuine, compelling reasons that it can be challenging for adults – even otherwise loving and caring adults – to take protective action, or even to notice, when children are being sexually used or abused, or at risk of being harmed in that way. These reasons or causes include:

  • Overwhelming feelings (like fear, anger, or shame) caused by just thinking about the sexual abuse of children.
  • Confusion caused by incorrect stereotypes about what kinds of people sexually use and abuse children.
  • Physical, emotional, and financial dependency on an individual or group that would be lost (for oneself and the family) if such concerns are raised
  • Self doubts of various kinds (e.g., “I’m paranoid.” “What if I’m wrong?” “It’s none of my business.”).
  • Fears of various consequences (e.g., of acknowledging betrayal by a trusted and respected person, of being wrong, of being right).

For these and many other reasons (explored in detail below), even when an adult knows about such behavior, he or she may not speak up, or may even tell the child to keep quiet. Also, if the child’s distress or any harm seems minor or absent, a tragic calculation may take place: the immediate costs of confronting the situation seem greater than the imagined long-term costs of looking the other way. (source: https://1in6.org/men/get-information/online-readings/others-who-were-involved-or-not/why-do-adults-fail-to-protect-children-from-sexual-abuse-or-exploitation/)

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lBPEkEOUUp0?rel=0]
This video is not about sexual abuse, but it does do a good job of demonstrating how people fail to act on their suspicions of abuse.

Which is WHY WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT SEXUAL ABUSE AND VIOLENCE.  By drawing back that curtain, we make it harder to deny or explain away; we take the blame off of the victim and put it where it belongs – the abuser; and we can help everyone understand what some of the signs may be so that more adults can speak out for victims when they suspect abuse may be happening.  And always remember that if you have suspicions of abuse you can call your local children’s protective services anonymously.

As for the neighbor next door, a couple of months later she moved out and the landlord did tell me that the apartment was full of holes in the wall and doors off of hinges and that there were clear signs that someone definitely had an anger management problem.  It looks like I made the right call, though I will never know if it made a difference. Silence hurts everyone.

Slut Shaming, part 2 – A Discussion of Something Like Normal by its author, Trish Doller (Part of the SVYALit Project)

Not long after Something Like Normal came out—and I was still reading reviews—I happened across one in which the reviewer complained about the slut shaming and how I’d portrayed every girl in the book except Harper as a slut. I was taken aback because, well…

Let me back up. 
When I first started thinking about the book that would become Something Like Normal, the story didn’t belong to Travis. He was meant to be the potential love interest to the main character—a girl whose reputation had been damaged by him when they were young. I’ve always been fascinated by the dynamics of “reputation” and how two girls who engage in the same behavior can be perceived differently. Travis’s role was to come home from Afghanistan a broken man whose Golden Boy shine had tarnished, leaving him as much an outcast as the main character. 
Except, as it sometimes happens, Travis had a very different story to tell. Although the focus was shifted away from the girl, I was still really interested in exploring the concept of “slut”. My intent was never to raise Harper up as a paragon by portraying the other female characters as sluts. I was interested in how Lacey, who owns her sexuality and is a fiercely loyal friend to Harper, is considered a slut. How Paige, an emotionally messed-up girl who uses sex as a substitute for attention, is considered “hot”. And how perception could also damage a girl who hadn’t done anything to earn her reputation at all.
To be fair, I can see how the reviewer might think I was slut shaming Lacey, Amber, and Paige. Especially since the males in the story go unchecked—also a deliberate choice. I wanted Travis to respect Lacey’s loyalty to Harper and I wanted him to realize that Paige wasn’t toxic and awesome. She was just toxic. And I wanted him to learn how to be worthy of Harper—rather than setting her up as someone worthy of him. 
We touched on slut shaming in our first Google hangout discussion on sexual violence, but I didn’t talk about it in-depth because I wanted to stay on topic. But here’s the thing…slut shaming is a really big part of rape culture. When you call a woman a slut, you deny her agency. You turn her into an object, rather than a person who is the sole proprietor of her body, and it becomes so much easier to blame her when she is assaulted.
Harper isn’t a slut. Lacey isn’t a slut. Paige isn’t a slut. They’re girls. Wonderful. Awful. Imperfect.
Just like the rest of us.

Trish Doller is the author of several cutting edge YA novels, including Something Like Normal and Where the Stars Still Shine. She is a co-moderator of the #SVYALit Project.

Slut Shaming, part 1 – a discussion by author Christa Desir (Part of the SVYALit Project)

Slut-shaming is defined as:
  1. the process in which women are attacked for their transgression of accepted codes of sexual conduct
  2. making any person feel guilty or inferior for certain sexual behaviors or desires that deviate from the traditional or orthodox gender expectations
Picture from the movie The Breakfast Club

So a few weeks ago, a friend reached out to me and told me about a situation that happened in his high school: a girl was making out with a guy in the hallway, followed him into the guy’s bathroom, and then was raped.

The girl had told the guy she was kissing she didn’t want to have sex, he corroborated this story when a teacher asked him. To repeat: He admitted that she told him she didn’t want to have sex and he had sex with her anyway.
My friend was talking to his students about this afterwards and a lot of them responded with, “That’s not really rape. She followed him into the bathroom. What did she expect was going to happen?”
I can think of no better example to demonstrate the inexorable link between rape culture and slut-shaming. “What did she expect was going to happen?” This is blaming a victim for her transgression in the accepted code of sexual conduct and thereby rationalizing any consequence of her choice.
“What did she expect?” is a very problematic argument with regards to sexual violence. I wrote an entire blog on it here. The bottom line is that she expected to be listened to, she expected her no to be adhered to, she expected not to be raped.
What’s informative about this discussion is that it demonstrates the “us” against “them” mentality that many people cling to in order to separate themselves or their daughters/sisters/wives/etc from the possibility of being a rape victim. If we can point to clothing choices, alcohol consumption, “slutty” behavior, etc. we think we can somehow protect ourselves from rape. This is, of course, ridiculous. I have worked in hospital ERs with children as young as 4 and with women as old as 87. The only protection against rape is stopping perpetrators from raping.
And here’s the fall-out of slut-shaming: it is another barrier to getting help. It is another barrier to victims disclosing rape. It keeps this horrible crime well and truly hidden so that perpetrators can continue to do it. It’s also a barrier to discussions about sexuality, enthusiastic consent, and figuring out what each individual truly wants.
The first time I chose to have sex, I was seventeen. And even in this case, “chose” is a bit of a nebulous word. I relented to the three-month long coercion campaign my boyfriend at the time had pressed on me. I decided to “get it over with.” All my friends had already done it. These are not exactly statements of excitement over having sex. And part of the reason for that is that I never had a sit-down conversation with myself about what I wanted. It was not even a consideration. Nor had I had a reasonable conversation with anyone who might help me figure this out.
Because when I was seventeen, talking about sex never included a conversation about what I wanted for myself. It included lots of conversations about what I’d done, but no one along the way ever asked me, “do you want to have sex?” Nor did any conversation ever include what being sexual felt like to me. My girlfriends and I could get into an extremely graphic discussion about every possible sexual thing we’d done or been asked to do, but not once did the question, “did it feel good to you?” ever come up between us.
I suspect the reason for that is we were all afraid admitting that we were active participants in sexual practices pegged us as sluts. In my group of friends, the unspoken code was that you could do anything sexually, as long as it was for the guy. I somehow dodged the bullet of being labeled a “slut” because everything I did was for my partner’s benefit. And that code would have left me culpable for following a boy into the bathroom and having sex with him, even if I didn’t want to. If I followed a boy into the bathroom, I was expected to have sex with him. What I wanted never came into play.

I have recently finished Jennifer Mathieu’s The Truth About Alice. This book is an important and critical look at slut-shaming, both the reasoning behind it and the consequences of it. It’s excellent because it offers an insight into the girl who is shamed and those who are shaming her. It also demonstrates the mentality of girls hooking up with guys with little thought to what the girls want. And how the insidious code of sexual expectation in girls leaves them with very little real agency. Something I fear is all too true in real life.

We are very lucky that we live in a time where books can demonstrate the very complicated maze that is teenage sexuality. Books allow us to have nuanced discussions about sexual agency and gender expectations. They allow us the ability to dissect choices and not judge characters so much on their actions as look to the motives behind them. How did we get here and how can we change things?
I have been given quite a bit of “feedback” with regards to Ani’s choices in Fault Line. Her hyper-promiscuity after her rape has led many people to be repelled by her. This was a conscious choice. I have met a lot of Anis in my life. The girls who are dismissed as sluts, attacked for their choices, judged for their actions. And I can’t help but wonder if anyone has ever sat down and asked any of them what they really want. Because if we’re really going to start a good conversation here, we need to step back from the question of what teen girls do and start looking at why they do it.

Christa Desir is the author of Faultline and co-moderator of the #SVYALit Project

SVYALit Project Index

Using Young Adult literature to talk with teens about sexual violence and consent

Project Goals:

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

The 2015 Schedule and Books

The #SVYALit Presentation : The issues, the books, and what we can do with this information

Statistics & Essential Information
It is estimated that anywhere between 1 out of 6 to as high as 1 out of 3 girls and 1 out of 7 to as high as 1 out of 5 boys is the victim of some type of sexual violence by the time they reach age 18.  It is also believed that true statistics are higher than we think because the incidences of abuse are under-reported. (Sources: 1 in 4 ; The CDC ; The Advocacy Center, RAINN)

In the US, someone is raped every 2 minutes. (RAINN)

For every 161 rape cases filed, only 1 is found to be a false accusation.  This is important because it means that more than 99% of rape allegations are true. If someone tells you they are the victim of sexual violence, you should believe them.

17% of the 2.5 million homeless youth leave home due to sexual violence

“A new study has found that many adolescent girls view sexual violence and harassment a normal part of middle school and high school life. The disturbing findings of the “Normalizing Sexual Violence” study, being published in the next issue of the journal Gender & Society, expose “how objectification, sexual harassment and abuse are viewed as everyday experiences for many young women.” – from A Might Girl’s facebook page https://www.facebook.com/amightygirl/posts/666158020087181

The Normalizing Sexual Violence study can be found here: http://gas.sagepub.com/content/28/3/337

The #SVYALit Project Resource Guide: outside resources for important information, support and teaching tools 

Talking with a Teen Book Club using #SVYALit Titles (a discussion by Amanda MacGregor)

Some links regarding false reports/accusations – which account for less than 8% of all charges filed

What we can learn about the gift of security and foundation from Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt (by Christa Desir)

Book Reviews and Booklists

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

Take 5: Difficult books on an important topic (sexual violence)

Take 5: Sexual Violence in the Life of Boys

The Gospel of Winter by Brendan Kiely

Thinking About Boys, Sex, and Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian

What Happens Next by Colleen Clayton

Plus One by Elizabeth Fama

September Girls by Bennett Madison

Discussing THE S WORD by Chelsea Pitcher, a guest post by Lourdes Keochgerien

5 Reasons I Loved Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens

Charm and Strange by Stephanie Khuen

The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu

The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

Uses for Boys by Erica Loraine Scheidt

Killer Instinct by S. E. Green

Live Through This by Mindi Scott

A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller

Some Boys by Patty Blount

Stitching Snow by R. C. Lewis

Everybody Sees the Ants by A. S. King (guest post by Bryson McCrone)

Why Norman, OK Matters: at look at what happens when students disclose rape allegations w/book list

A Reflection on Everybody Sees the Ants by A. S. King (guest post by Bryson McCrone)

Thinking About Althea & Oliver by Cristina Moracho (with input from Robert Bittner)

Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

Inexcusable by Chris Lynch

I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios

Pandemic by Yvonne Ventresca

Book Review: Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E. K. Johnston

Book Review: Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

Sex/Consent Positive Titles: Karen’s List Christa’s List Carrie’s List

Discussion Posts 

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

Should there be sex in YA books?

An Anonymous Letter to Those Who Would Ban Eleanor and Park

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

Incest, the last taboo

Loud and Clear: A Reflection on Teaching SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson in the Classroom

Christa Writes: Sexual Violence in YA Lit

Slut Shaming part 1 and part 2 

Silence Hurts Everyone: A further look at Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell and a discussion of why adults don’t intervene more on the behalf of children 

Talk About Sex: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Why Talking About the Age of Consent Matters

Canary, Consent and Athlete Adoration 

Honoring the Survivors, a look at The Gospel of Winter

Book Review: Uses for Boys by Erica Lorainne Scheidt

On Unhealthy Relationships in YA Lit by Christa Desir

Slut Shaming Hurts Guys, too by Jennifer Mathieu

Book Review: Live Through This by Mindi Scott 

True Confessions of a Former Slut Shamer

Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover, a reflection on victim blaming by author Patty Blount

More on How We Fail Male Survivors of Sexual Violence

In Which I am Concerned about the Things John Grisham has Said about Child Pornography 

Sam Pepper, YouTube and Teen Culture

Mirror, Mirror: Discussing the Representation of Sexual Violence Survivors in Stitching Snow, a guest post by author R. C. Lewis

Middle Grade Fiction on Sexual Violence

Pandemic by Yvonne Ventresca

A discussion for First Responders part 1 and part 2

How to get teens involved in a safe by critical discussion about sex, sexual violence and consent

Consent is Sexy, Consent is Required, a discussion of THE DEVIL YOU KNOW by Trish Doller

Talking About Those Girls: A Guest Post by Kelly Brocklehurst

Sexual Violence and Male Survivors: a Dialogue between Two Male Survivors Who Are Thriving

Sunday Reflections: How We Talk About the Victims of Sexual Abuse Matters

Sexual Exploitation, 2 YA Titles That Explore Child Pornography and the Life of Teens (Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver and A Work of Art by Melody Maysonet)

The Trouble with Telling, author Kristin Halbrook discusses her new release EVERY LAST PROMISE

She is Safe? A Personal Reflection for Sexual Assualt Awareness Month

ALL THE RAGE and rape culture, Trish Doller interviews author Courtney Summers

Survivor Stories and the Decision to Go Public, a guest post by Christa Desir

Bone Gap and Survivor Stories, a guest post by author Laura Ruby

The Distance Between Lost and Found, part 2: Sex, Power, Politics and The Church

Author Christa Desir discusses the Voices and Faces Project

Author Heather Demetrios discusses sexual choices & boundaries in I’ll Meet You There

Bearing Witness to Violence, a guest post by author Eric Devine

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

Recap and Video of the first panel discussing Faultline, Sex & Violence and Where the Stars Still Shine

Recap and Video of the second panel discussing Charm & Strange, Canary, and The Gospel of Winter

Recap and Video of the third panel discussing Pointe and Faking Normal  

Recap and Video of the fourth panel discussing Historical Fiction: A Mad, Wicked Folly, Gilt, and Maid of Secrets

Recap and Video of the fifth panel discussing Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A. S. King

Recap and Video of the sixth panel discussing PRESS PLAY by Eric Devine, BRUTAL YOUTH by Anthony Breznican, and LEVERAGE by Joshua C. Cohen

Talking with Teens About Street Harassment
Street Harassment

Stop Street Harassment Week (information and stats)
What It’s Like for a Girl: How Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama made me think about the politics of sexuality in the life of girls
That Time Matt Smith Perpetuated Street Harassment Culture at Comic Con

New Street Harassment Report Results

Talking with Teens About Human Trafficking
Read Kimberly Purcell’s TRAFFICKED for a look at this issue and read her post about writing the book
Human Trafficking: YOU can get involved
The Slave Across the Street

Talking with Teens About Consent
Sexual Assault Awareness Month, talking to teens about consent and rape part 1 and part 2
This is What Consent Looks Like
The Curios Case of the Kissing Doctor and Consent

Sex/Romance in Fiction (including a Ted talk on Making Sexing Normal) by Carrie Mesrobian

Talking with Teens About Slut Shaming
Slut Shaming part 1 and part 2
Discussing THE S WORD by Chelsea Pitcher, a guest post by Lourdes Keochgerien
Slut Shaming Hurts Guys, too by Jennifer Mathieu
True Confessions of a Former Slut Shamer 
A couple of links of note on the topic of slut shaming  
SLJ article: How librarians can help in the fight the culture of slut shaming

Sexual violence and GLBTQ
Part 1: Sexual violence inside (and because of) the closet by Anthony Isom

Books with Sex or Consent Positive Examples
Karen’s List
Christa’s List
Carrie’s List

Talking About Triggers and After Care (Important Additional Resources)
Sexual Abuse, Assault, and Rape Awareness: Triggers
Tips for Friends and Family of Rape and Sexual Abuse Survivors
RAINN: Self Care for Survivors

Talking About Hazing

Take 5: Hazing

Breaking Tradition: Brutal Youth author Anthony Breznican on the fight against hazing

 Initiation Secrets: Press Play and a look at hazing rituals by Eric Devine

Bearing Witness to Violence, a guest post by Eric Devine

Take 5: Five thoughts I had while reading Brutal Youth

Book Discussion Guides 

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Canary by Rachele Alpine
Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens
Charm and Strange by Stephanie Kuehn
Scars by Cheryl Rainfield (also deals with self-harm)

Additional Resources
What is Rape Culture? 
What “Rape Culture” Means 
Systemic Barriers: Gender Socialization | Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center
Ending Widespread Violence Against Women: Promoting Gender Equality: UNFPA
Myth and Facts about Sexual Abuse, Violence and Rape (from 1 in 6)
A Guide to Male Sale Assault from RAINN 

Stop Street Harassment is an organization dedicated to raising awareness about Street Harassment 

The Good Men Project looks at cultural masculinity and addresses thinks like rape culture and more

Follow the #SVYALit Tumblr for updates and additional posts
This index will be updated on an ongoing basis

How to Use the #SVYALit Project Index:

“Books are a safe way to help teens process topics we know they are thinking about. Here are some things you can do in your library to get the discussion going in your library—and also implement ways to help teens who themselves have been impacted by SV.

  • Contact your local hospital and see if they have a SANE nurse (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner). SANE nurses can come to your school and library and give talks about healthy relationships, consent, unhealthy and abusive relationships, recognizing the signs of sexual violence and more. They will usually do this for free as part of their outreach.
  • Put together a panel of local communities who work with youth to discuss the various resources in your immediate community that can help teens. Or have a health fair and include this type of information.
  • Have a book discussion group on the various titles we are discussing in SVYALit, and watch the author discussion panels.
  • At the very least, share relevant information with your community by building displays, putting together booklists and resources, and discussion guides. For example, a variety of discussion guides for Speak can be found online.

There is evidence to suggest that promoting gender equality can help decrease sexual violence. So consider creating integrated book displays based on themes like plagues, dystopians, action and adventure, etc. instead of promoting gendered displays like “boy books” and “girl books.” See also: Boys Will Be Boys and Girls Will Be Accomodating by author Laurel Snyder.” – excepted from Launching a Dialogue About Sexual Violence in YA Lit—and in Real Life at School Library Journal

The #SVYALit Project appears in the April 2014 edition of School Library Journal on Page 18

Loud and Clear: A Reflection on Teaching SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson in the Classroom (a guest post by author Eric Devine)

As part of the #SVYALit project, we reached out to author Eric Devine and asked him to write.  We wanted to make sure that male voices are heard in the discussion. And he is an awesome writer and teacher. Today he shares with us his experiences of teaching Speak in the classroom.  Please note, we want to hear from as many voices as possible on this subject. If you would like to share a book review, create a booklist, or discuss the topics, please email me (email address at the right).
The novel Speak is part of my school’s freshman curriculum. It’s the one book I hold onto until the end of the year, because there’s not much selling I need to do with the story, as I have to with To Kill A Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, Romeo and Juliet, etc. The students read and discuss without much prodding from me, and it is during this discussion, two years ago, when the book went from a perfect end-of-the-year novel to detouring into dangerous and alarming territory.

My classes discuss the novel in four parts, after each of the marking periods. By the end, they understand the symbolism with the seasons and within Melinda’s artwork. They see the root of Melinda’s chapped lips, the strained relationships within the story, and, of course, her inability to speak about what has occurred.

During the discussion after the class had finished the novel, I kept hearing the word responsibility. Now, I had split the class into multiple groups, and it was buzzing through all of them, so I stopped the discussion and said to the class that it sounded as if they were focusing on the responsibility for the rape. They agreed they were. Part of me wishes I had pushed no further, but the majority is glad I asked what I did: “If you had to assign percentages of responsibility for the rape, what would that look like? Create a pie chart for me.”

This picture is from my classroom. The four groups varied, but one point became very clear, Melinda was sharing almost equal responsibility with Andy (IT). Now, you’ll notice in the image that there are more than four pie charts. That’s because there were dissenters within groups regarding what the “group” had indicated. Therefore, there are smaller circles for each group, indicating such. The breakdown of responsibility fell into three categories: Melinda, IT, alcohol/peer-pressure/setting. The analysis of all 10 circles, indicating the percentage of responsibility for the rape, amounts to the following:

Andy (IT): 48%
Melinda: 41%
alcohol/peer-pressure/setting: 11%
To say I was disturbed by what I saw would be a gross understatement. I read Speak when it first came out, while I was in college, and at no point did I ever consider that anyone beyond Andy was to blame. That’s because there isn’t. So, when my class of a roughly equal mix of freshman boys and girls––almost sophomores––looked upon their pie charts as okay, I almost lost my mind. When we next spent a half hour discussing what they had indicated, and they offered justifications for their reasoning, I was sickened. But, at that point, I’d been teaching for a decade, so I knew I couldn’t start screaming or preaching. I needed something greater.
I snapped the picture above and went directly to my school’s social worker. She was equally appalled, and so brainstormed what we could do. By the end of the week, we had formed a panel of upperclassmen who had connections to rape on a personal level. They were also students from various clubs, who were intelligent and articulate. The social worker advised them and then gathered handouts regarding rape statistics and misconceptions, and as a unit, we met my class.
The social worker began by indicating the responsibility percentages the class had assigned were unnerving and that she wanted to educate them a little. She distributed her handouts and talked a bit. There were some students who were visibly uncomfortable, now armed with such knowledge, but there was a collection of the most vocal for Melinda as the primary bearer of responsibility, who kept their eyes lowered and zoned out.
Then I introduced the panel. They discussed their personal connections to rape, and then I opened the floor to Q&A. The class was hesitant at first, but the upperclassman were savvy, and got the ball rolling. Soon enough, as I had hoped, the most adamant of the class started offering their opinions. The social worker and I waited in the wings to moderate, but the discussion ran itself, with a fair amount of point, counter-point argument.
The panel asked excellent questions and supplied spot on analogies for the class to digest. And they did. The boys (primarily) and girls who were the most adamant that Melinda was to blame were quieted and the social worker and I were pleased.
I continued with the rest of the year and all was fine. I felt like I had done a good job, had seized a teachable moment and triumphed.
And then I heard some of the most vocal boys joking. They were laughing about the discussion, about needing to play it safe over the summer, about making sure they stayed away from drunk girls, and to never, ever have sex with them.
The anger I had felt ignited ten-fold, but then came the stark and sobering realization that there was nothing more I could do. To dive deeper would force me to stray from the curriculum and to delve into more character education than I’m sure some parents would have liked. I have no doubt that some of the blame-speech came form home.
I had tried, and I had failed, and I have never been more dejected as a teacher.
It would be wonderful if one of the boys spoke to me after class and expressed his true compassion for the situation, and that he was just playing along, as teens will do. That didn’t happen, though. It would also be nice if I could write that all worked out the next year, that the group I had the previous year was an anomaly. The truth is, I don’t know what last year’s class thought about responsibility, because I didn’t ask. I was too afraid of finding out, of losing again, so I didn’t probe.
And I know how awful that sounds. And I am exceedingly sorry. As a man and as a husband and as a father and as an educator, I do bear a responsibility to have that conversation with my students and with my daughters, but I need help doing so. My one voice does little against a tide of vocal opposition, especially in my position, where the view is that I should be focusing on comprehension and writing skills, not social justice. 
Source: Tumblr
That is why this project is so important. Because if the social dialogue about rape changes, then maybe the misguided youth won’t react to Speak in the way my class did. If more YA books about rape get into the hands of these students, then possibly their perceptions will change. They won’t see victims as other and as responsible.Hopefully they’ll recognize the victims as members of their class, their friends, their family. And hopefully never, themselves.
But the current irony abounds. The voice of the most ignorant resounded over our conversation about rape, the pain of it, and the compounding torture of having to speak about it. There is little doubt in my mind that victims know this, intuitively. Why wouldn’t they? It’s what they hear. And at some point we, as a society, express that this is okay. I don’t know why, but I hope that some time soon we will make it a point to address the scope of this issue. I hope we make it a priority.

Until then, I will do my part to keep the dialogue going in my class, so that when the change comes, I can appreciate it, loud and clear

Eric Devine is a teacher and author of the new young adult novels Tap Out and Dare Me published by Running Press Kids.  His upcoming novel is called PRESS PLAY. You can read more about it at his webpage or at Goodreads. He previously blogged for us after asking his male students if boys like to read in the post SHOW ME HOW TO LIVE.
You can find a variety of resources, statistics and more at the SYYALit Tumblr Archive to help get the conversation going.

Sexual Violence in YA Literature Hangout Wrap Up

About two hours ago I hosted my first ever Google Hangout on Air to (mostly) non-disastrous effects.  I’ll have to write you a post about what I learned about doing that some other time.  But what I really want to talk about is the conversation that I had with authors Christa Desir, Trish Doller and Carrie Mesrobian about their books, sexual violence in culture and in ya literature, and more.

You can see the entire conversation here in the embedded clip below.  There are a few technical hiccups, but it was a really good conversation.  I suggest listening to the audio and not watching the video itself as it freezes in a couple of places.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0q-3qXsB_9I?rel=0]

About our Authors:
Carrie Mesrobian is the Morris Award finalist of Sex & Violence.  Sex & Violence is the emotional story of Evan, once a player who sets out on a journey of healing and self-evaluation after a traumatic – and almost deadly – experience.

 Christa Desir is an activist, editor and the author of FaultlineFaultline is the story of a girl (Ani) who was gang raped at a party and how her boyfriend, Ben, deals with his guilt and feelings in the aftermath.

Trish Doller is the author of many YA books, including Where the Stars Still Shine. Where the Stars Still Shine is the story of Callie. After being kidnapped by her mother as a child, Callie is returned to a family that she never really knew about and struggles with the various feelings she has about her childhood, including some sexual abuse that she experienced. It also deals with mental illness.

Some of the Highlights:

All three books have a very different perspective on the topic.  

Christa was a rape victim advocate.  She set out to tell the story from the point of view of Ben because she wanted to show how sexual violence affects others involved in the victims life and not just in the immediate aftermath but in the long time aftermath.

In Trish’s research, she learned that some people respond to sexual violence by trying to take control of their sexuality and find a more fulfilling sexual experience by pursuing many different sexual relationships.  (This is also the reaction in Faultline).  It is important to recognize that there are multiple ways that survivors respond to being a victim of a sexual crime.  All reactions are valid and we should approach them and respond with compassion.

As in Faultline, Sex & Violence also looks at the trauma of outside parties not directly involved in the rape.

Carrie talks in detail about how our current culture teaches boys to think about both woman and sex and how it is important that we talk more openly about sex because when we fail to it can allow dysfunction to grow.  We need to let boys know that it is normal to have sexual feelings so that they can talk openly and develop healthy sexual feelings and talk more openly about consent.

Christa wanted to engage boys in the conversation about sexuality and consent.  It was important that Ben was not a hero.  She wanted the discussion about the after effects to be part of the discussion.  Boys need to be involved more in the conversations about consent and sexual violence.  They need to know that men can be involved in ya literature about sexual violence and not have to be the perpetrator.

Trish began talking about the comments she has received and our tendency towards slut shaming and victim blaming.  Great quote: “Sexual abuse victims already feel shame, they don’t need more shame by being judged for the way they choose to recover.”  Christa added to this idea that we need to remove the judgment in survivors, even when we are reviewing books with sexual violence, and approach victims – always – with compassion.

Trish had presents a great discussion about the idea of “throw away girls” and how it adds to girls self perception and rape culture.  The dialogue needs to continually affirm the value of all people.

You really need to listen Carrie discussing Male and Female sexuality and slut shaming around 20:50.  And Christa added some good insight about the double standard towards guys who don’t want to be sexual conquerors.  We need to have broader categories, be more accepting, of people for being whoever they are at the time.  Carrie added that there is research called Challenging Casanova that indicates that most me,n whether straight or gay, want to be in one relationship.

All the authors agreed that it is important to have more open discussions about sex and sexual violence to help create more healthy approaches to sex.  Carrie has a great discussion about privacy around 30 minutes.  Here, she says, it where dysfunction hides.

Christa points out that rape victims can be any age, race, or gender.  There is nothing that puts you at risk and nothing that makes you safe.  Someone in your life will be a victim of sexual violence and you might be the person in their life that they choose to share with.  Christa says, “The moral of the story is have a conversation.”

If you don’t watch the whole video, do listen to what Carrie, Christa and Trish have to say around the 1 minute mark about entitlement, street harassment, and the slippery slope into sexual violence. We end our discussion by having a discussion about using rape responsibly in YA lit and discussing how the entitlement that our culture suggests we have can lead to sexual violence, street harassment and rape culture.  It also influences the way we feel about our selves and how we move about in our world. So profound this ending of the conversation.

Karen’s Closing Thoughts:

One of the questions I asked was about the response of parents, educators, social workers, etc. to their books.  The truth is, many parents and educators want to pretend that teenagers don’t think about sex, but biology is not in our favor here. For all teens, by the time they enter into high school (and for many it begins much earlier), those hormones kick in and they are in fact thinking about – and some of them are having – sex.  Pretending that it doesn’t happen and refusing to talk about it doesn’t keep them safe, but having honest discussions can.  And it can help them process their feelings and develop healthy sexual identities.  I get the fear, trust me, I am a mom.  But as Carrie mentioned, talking to your child about the circus typically doesn’t result in them running off to join the circus and talking to our teens about sex, sexual safety, and even sexual violence probably isn’t going to make them decide to become sexually active.  But giving them correct information can help them make better decisions.

The other reasons books like these authors are important is that it can help us all to develop empathy.  As Trish mentioned, there is not one way that a person responds to sexual violence.  Having multiple stories can help us in many ways:  It can help us see the signs before it happens, it can help us develop empathy and respond in compassionate ways to those we encounter in our lives that have been subjected to sexual violence, and it can help take those things that are done in the dark into the light so that it happens less because now we as a culture are knowledgeable and informed and we don’t let perpetrators hide in dark shadows.  And if someone commits an act of sexual violence against another person, it is always their fault.  As Christa mentioned, THERE IS NO BUT.

There is a scene in Where the Stars Still Shine that is just brilliant to me in highlighting survivor feelings and triggers.  Callie is in the process of getting intimate with the boy who is genuinely attentive and safe; he cares about her needs.  But the staging of the moment triggers her memory and she tells him what he needs to do to make the moment safe for her.  It is such an effective and poignant scene.

Sex & Violence is such a profound journey of both physical and emotional healing as Evan re-evaluates how he has perceived women and sex.  It reminds me so much of early Chris Crutcher, like Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, which is the highest compliment I have.

Faultline will gut you when you realize what happens to Ani.  I so admire Christa for making us think not only about how rape affects the victim, but about how it affects those who love the victim.  You can really see her experience as an advocate coming through in the way she shares this story and the depth of emotion that is portrayed.

I also mentioned the new title The Gospel of Winter for a look at the grooming aspect of sexual abuse.

I also discusses Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama and how it made me think about the issue of Street Harassment.

I want to give a special thanks to our authors for their time and thoughtful discussion.

Resources Mentioned:

The Gift of Fear and Protecting the Gift by Gavin DeBecker

Talking about using sexual violence responsibly in literature:
A Discussion of Using Rape as a Plot Device
Jaclyn Friedman post about using rape as a plot device
Maggie Steifvater discusses Literary Rape

Carrie Mesrobian has some good resources and a list of recommended titles on her blog today as well

Christa Desir also wrote about the chat yesterday on her blog in this important post

More on Sexual Violence and YA Lit at TLT:

What It’s Like for a Girl: How Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama made me think about the politics of sexuality in the life of girls
Sexual Assault Awareness Month, talking to teens about consent and rape part 1 and part 2
Should there be sex in YA books? 
Plan B: What Youth Advocates Need to Know 
Because No Always Mean No, a list of books dealing with sexual assault
Who Will Save You? Boundaries, Rescue and the Role of Adults in YA Lit.  A look at consent and respecting boundaries in relationships outside of just sex. 
Incest, the last taboo 
This is What Consent Looks Like
Street Harassment
That Time Matt Smith Perpetuated Street Harassment Culture at Comic Con
An Anonymous Letter to Those Who Would Ban Eleanor and Park
Take 5: Difficult books on an important topic (sexual violence)   
The Curios Case of the Kissing Doctor and Consent 
Book Review: The Gospel of Winter by Brendan Kiely
Take 5: Sexual Violence in the Life of Boys

Take 5: Teen Issues, sexual violence in the life of boys

Source: Buzzfeed

When we think about sexual abuse and rape, we often think of women.  But the truth is, boys and men can and do get sexually assaulted.  In fact, while the stats indicate that 1 out of 3 girls will be a victim by the time they are 18, the stats are not much better for boys with 1 out of 5 reporting abuse by the time they are 18.  And we know that stats are often under reported, marginalized or discounted.  Especially for boys because we tend to think that boys are too strong or too big to be victimized.  But sexual assault isn’t always about overpowering someone physically, which can and does happen even with boys, but it is about grooming and building twisted relationships and emotional/psychological power-plays.  This project, referenced on Buzzfeed, demonstrates some of the various threats and statements that have been made to boys from their abusers or when they tried to report their abuse.

Earlier today, I reviewed The Gospel of Winter by Brendan Kiely, a book that looks at the abuse of 3 boys in the Catholic Church.  It is just one of many important titles that help shed a light on this topic.  Although difficult to read, it is important that we do in fact read these books because they help bring that which is hidden in the dark into the light so that victims can know that they are not alone, so that friends and family members can help gain empathy and provide support, and so that we may one day bring this type of abuse to an end because all will understand what it is, how our children are victimized, and recognize the signs.  Knowledge is indeed power.  Here is a list of a few other titles dealing with the topic of sexual abuse in the lives of boys.

When Jeff Comes Home by Catherine Atkins
Publisher’s Annotation: Two years ago, Jeff Hart was kidnapped at knife point. Now his kidnapper is releasing him to return home. But when Jeff finds his family, he feels shell-shocked and unable to tell anyone what happened. He can’t believe that anyone-not even his family or friends-will understand what he went through. Jeff isn’t the same person he was before, and he never will be again. 
Karen says: Released in 2001, this was the first book I read that I can recall there being a male victim.  Most sexual abuse cases are not kidnappings by strangers, as depicted here, but it is gut wrenching to read about Jeff’s guilt and confusion. 

Nicholas Dane by Melvin Burgess
Publisher’s Annotation: His most substantial book to date, this compelling story of a teenager caught in a corrupt 1980s Care Home is a powerful study of a particularly highly-charged and distressing subject. Handled with great sensitivity and engrossing narrative drive, it is an important addition to the understanding of how childcare can go so wrong. 


  Swagger by Carl Deuker
Publisher’s Annotation: When high school senior Jonas moves to Seattle, he is glad to meet Levi, a nice, soft-spoken guy and fellow basketball player. Suspense builds like a slow drumbeat as readers start to smell a rat in Ryan Hartwell, a charismatic basketball coach and sexual predator. When Levi reluctantly tells Jonas that Hartwell abused him, Jonas has to decide whether he should risk his future career to report the coach. Pitch-perfect basketball plays, well-developed characters, and fine storytelling make this psychological sports novel a slam dunk

Boy Toy by Barry Lyga
Publisher’s Annotation: Josh Mendel has a secret. Unfortunately, everyone knows what it is.
Five years ago, Josh’s life changed. Drastically. And everyone in his school, his town—seems like the world—thinks they understand. But they don’t—they can’t. And now, about to graduate from high school, Josh is still trying to sort through the pieces.

Heather Booth says: “I think this is a good one because the boy needs to confront and understand the problems with society’s idea of male sexuality before he can admit that he was actually abused by his teacher.”

33 Snowfish by Adam Rapp
Publisher’s Annotation: On the run in a stolen car with a kidnapped baby in tow, Custis, Curl, and Boobie are three young people with deeply troubled pasts and bleak futures. As they struggle to find a new life for themselves, it becomes painfully clear that none of them will ever be able to leave the past behind. Yet for one, redemption is waiting in the unlikeliest of places.  See also Little Chicago by Adam Rapp.

There is also Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick, which I discussed here, and Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen and Inexcusable by Chris Lynch, which appears on an earlier list of titles dealing with sexual violence in YA lit.

Robin also wanted me to point out there there is a newer nonfiction title on the topic called Rewind, rebound : a teenage guy’s book for dealing with sexual abuse by Mindy Loiselle.  It was released in 2010.

Here’s the 411:

We’re going to Google Hangout and do a “virtual discussion panel” with authors Carrie Mesrobian (Sex & Violence), Christa Desir (Fault Line) and Trish Doller (Where the Stars Still Shine) on Wednesday, January 29th at Noon Eastern to discuss Sexual Violence in the lives of teens and YA lit.  You can join us for our virtual panel.  We will also be attempting to record it so you can view it later.  Some of the questions we will be discussing include how writers go about making realistic representations to raise awareness and give teen survivors a voice. These are all good books with some good discussion and I recommend reading them.  In fact, read them before January 29th and join us.

More About Sexual Violence in YA Lit on TLT:
What It’s Like for a Girl: How Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama made me think about the politics of sexuality in the life of girls
Sexual Assault Awareness Month, talking to teens about consent and rape part 1 and part 2
Should there be sex in YA books? 
Plan B: What Youth Advocates Need to Know 
Because No Always Mean No, a list of books dealing with sexual assault
Who Will Save You? Boundaries, Rescue and the Role of Adults in YA Lit.  A look at consent and respecting boundaries in relationships outside of just sex. 
Incest, the last taboo 
This is What Consent Looks Like
Street Harassment
That Time Matt Smith Perpetuated Street Harassment Culture at Comic Con
An Anonymous Letter to Those Who Would Ban Eleanor and Park
Take 5: Difficult books on an important topic (sexual violence)