Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

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.

An Open Letter to Logan Paul



On January 1st of this year, I logged on to my Twitter account to catch up on the latest news and wish everyone a Happy New Year. Instead, I learned that there was a lot of controversy surrounding a YouTuber and a video. That YouTuber was you and that video was of you showing a dead body in Japan’s “Suicide Forest”.

I didn’t watch the video and I never will. I did, unfortunately, see a screen shot of you standing in the foreground with a body hanging in the background. I will never unsee that image.

There’s something else you should know about January 1st. It’s the two year anniversary of the day that my high school best friend died from suicide. He was an EMS/First Responder and he suffered from PTSD, as many first responders do. You see, they are the first to arrive on the scene in the face of tragedy and they are tasked with trying to save lives. It’s stressful and often they fail and lives are lost. It’s a heavy burden to carry day in and day out. And my dear friend couldn’t carry that burden any longer. He was married and had children. He had friends that loved him. He is mourned and missed daily. Your video was the slap in his face, in his family’s face, in mine. It was an all too painful reminder on a day that was already so hard for us all.


You should also know that I am the parent of a teenager who works with teenagers. My teenage daughter has watched me struggle with my own mental health issues and there was a summer a few years ago where I too struggled with suicidal ideation. A few months ago she received a text in the middle of the night from a friend who said that he was going to end his life. She has been impacted in a variety of ways by the issue of suicide.

She looked at me a couple of days after your video went up and told me that many of her friends were talking about you on social media, and none of them were okay. You see, 1 in 4 people struggles with mental health. Even teenagers. This means the people who watch your videos and support you are somehow facing the issue of mental health, suicidal ideation and suicide. It could be them. It could be their family member. It could be a friend. But every single person who has watched your video has probably been affected by the issues that you made fun of.

Everyone loves a good joke. Humor makes life tolerable. But somethings are just not funny, suicide is one of those things. There is great shame and stigma associated with mental health and suicide. In some cultural and religious traditions it is still believed that a person who commits suicide will burn in hell. Surviving family members struggle with guilt and grief and shame and stigma. They wonder what they could have done differently, what signs they may have missed, if they had done just that one thing if that person would still be with them today. And yet you stood in front of a body hanging in a forest, violating that person, his friends and family and their pain, and any other person who has struggled with this issue in any way. It was vile, disgusting and offensive. It  was crass and opportunistic. It was unethical and vulgar.

It was dangerous.

1 in 4. 1 in 4 of the kids and teens who watched that video are themselves struggling with the issues that you mocked in your video. That means you were making fun and joking about 1 in 4 of your viewers. You harmed them. You used them. You violated them.


I am someone who uses social media and has an online presence. I have now for about six years. I have learned a lot in those six years and changed the ways that I do some things. I continue to learn. But the reality is, when you choose to go public you have a great responsibility in way you do with that. Words have weight and meaning. Actions have consequences. By choosing to live such a public life you are also choosing to increase your influence in the world and the ways in which you help shape or destroy our world. You are popular with young, growing minds who are trying to figure out who they are, what they believe, and how they will lives their lives. There is a responsibility that comes with that and you failed them. And because you failed in your responsibility, you do not deserve it. When you break trust, you have to work harder to regain it and maintain it. Right now, you do not deserve that trust. You broke faith.

And outside of the suicide issue, you went and mocked another culture. You boarded a plane and choose to make fun of and ridicule an entire people group and culture. Again, you hurt your fans. You mocked those who live in or share a Japanese heritage. And you reinforced negative views and racist stereotypes in the minds of growing youth. Maybe you are not aware, but racism and hatred are huge issues in our country and in our world and you did nothing to help make the world a more positive place. Your video is everything that is wrong with our world: you choose hits and likes and popularity and money over people, and that is despicable.

At the end of the day, it is people that matter. We must care for and about one another. We must work together to build a community. We must take responsibility for actions and understand the ways that the parts can affect the whole. Until you can do that, I hope you never get another hit on a video again.

It took me a week to be able to even talk about how the events of last week affected me. I had to give myself the space to feel once again the loss of my friend. But after talking to my daughter and hearing what her and her friends were struggling with, I knew I could not remain silent. I hope you listen to your fans and understand that you have hurt them in very real ways.

Sunday Reflections: TRIGGER WARNING – This Post is About Suicide and Why We Shouldn’t Joke About It



On December 31st of this year, my best friend from high school got online and posted on Facebook: “Happy New Year everyone, have a great year.” A mere twelve hours later his new wife – they had just gotten married four months earlier – posted that my friend had taken his own life. Nine months later we are all still grieving. What did we miss, we wonder? Why didn’t we know, we wonder? Where were the signs?

The truth is, this is the 5th person in five years I know that has died in this way.

One of them was a teen that came into my library several times a week. A teen I knew. I teen I had nurtured and loved.

My teen.


In the summer of 2015 I had decided that I was going to take my own life. It seemed the only way to end the pain I was feeling. It was a thought that had taken hold in my brain that I couldn’t seem to let go of.

I have struggled with these thoughts on and off for the last year and a half. It turns out that I have a health condition that needed seriously attended to – extreme hypothyroidism – and one of the symptoms can be depression, anxiety and panic attacks. I can not tell you how much it sucks to feel and think this way. I have had to sit down and have hard conversations with my doctors, my family, and my children.

If I had followed through with the thoughts that had taken hold of me last summer, my daughter’s foray into her teenage years would have always been marked by the fact that her mother had taken her own life right before she turned 13. Thankfully, that’s not a burden she has to bear. She was lucky, many others are not.


I work with teenagers in a library. Recently we have had a problem with a lot of suicide talk – and joking. GKY they tell each other: Go Kill Yourself. They joke about drinking bleach. We had to tell them that they couldn’t print off pictures of bottles of bleach and make them into buttons with our button makers. Not here, not at the library. We talked about suicide and why it wasn’t a joking matter. One day a teen told me in all seriousness that he really did want to die. He was hurting.






Here are some facts about teens and suicide:

Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among young people ages 15 – 24

Although girls think about and attempt suicide more frequently, boys are more likely to succeed because they use more deadly means such as a gun or jumping off of a bridge. Teenage boys die 4x as often as girls from suicide.

It is believed that there are 25 attempts for every completed teen suicide. That means for every teen suicide that is successful, there are another 25 teens who attempt but do not succeed.







Earlier this week, a YA author posted a picture of his newest book cover with a disturbing line that could definitely be read as a joke about suicide. The book cover was gorgeous, the suicide joke was disturbing. I thought in that moment about how much of my last year has been about dealing with suicide. Being in the mire and the muck of depression and suicide, being surrounded by it in every corner of your life, having to talk to teens about it, having to sit with teens as they mourn a friend, mourning your own friend – there is nothing witty or funny or amusing or irreverent about suicide.

When a tragedy happens, the jokes always come. I remember hearing the first Challenger joke, the first 9/11 joke, and we always ask, is it too soon? The truth is that suicide jokes are always too soon. We never know who around us is dealing with this issue. Maybe they are wrestling with their own suicidal thoughts, trying to make it through another day and hope that the thoughts will somehow go away. Maybe they are trying to hold the hand of a friend or family member who is trying to just hang on. Maybe they are mourning the loss of a loved one, wrestling with the doubt and the guilt and the fear and the anger and the emptiness. For someone around you, it is always too soon. And the truth is, you don’t know. You just don’t know.

As someone who works for and with teens, I have a responsibility to know and understand them, their lives, the issues that they are facing and struggling with. Being a teenager is hard. You are a child and yet not really. You are trying to figure out who you are and what you believe and your place in the world. The teenage years are the time when mental illness is most likely to rear its ugly head. Or questions about gender identity and sexuality (which are other high depression and suicide related factors). The teenage years are glorious, but they are also scary and dangerous and complicated. We owe it to our teens to understand the issues they are facing and be responsible in how we talk to and about those issues.

And maybe we just owe each other a little bit of grace, the grace that reminds us that people around us are struggling with these issues and we don’t know who those people are. I’m not saying don’t talk about suicide, because I think we should. We should talk about and destigmatize mental illness and all the things that go with that. We should talk about suicide because it is real and it happens and people are struggling with it. We should talk about it so that people know they aren’t alone.

But joke about it as a marketing tool? No, let’s not do that. Because somewhere a teen might be listening and they might hear the wrong thing and that, my friends, would be a tragedy. We’ve had enough tragedy this year. I’ve had enough tragedy this year.

Teens are listening. What are you going to say to them?

(PS – Because I mentioned my health struggles, I want you to know that I’m doing fairly well these days. I’m seeing a doctor and we’re addressing the issues.)

Sunday Reflections: Exit Strategies, a personal reflection for National Suicide Prevention Week (Trigger Warning)

Trigger Warning: Sexual Abuse and Suicide are discussed in this post

suicidepreventionweekThe first time I ever thought about it I was in the 8th grade and being abused by someone living in my household. I wrote a will, typing it up on the old fashioned typewriter I had asked for Christmas that year, and folded it into a tiny square and tucked it under the slats of my brother’s bunk bed. I was only 12 or 13 so I didn’t really have a lot to leave behind, it was more of a symbolic gesture. I remember leaving my over-sized Wham poster to my best friend, knowing that she was the only person who would appreciate the enormity of the gift I was bestowing upon her and give it the respect and adulation it deserved. I miss that Wham poster.

Later that year I would find a way out of my traumatizing environment and on the whole I did better. I’m 42 now and throughout my life there have been a few other periods where I have descended into another dark period and formulated for myself what I euphemistically call an “exit strategy”. I spent months during one of my darker times driving over a very high bridge to work and every day I did I thought to myself, if I need to, if it gets too bad, I can just drive over this edge.

My 4th really dark period occurred just this summer. It was not, in fact, a good time to live in the Jensen household. Right after The Mr. came and got me in Ohio to take me to see the doctor, he himself spiraled into a very serious physical illness that laid him up for weeks, pneumonia and pleurisy. So there the two of us were, trying to parent from bed while my thyroid and brain chemistry tried to get re-balanced and he tried to breathe. I was forced to have conversations with The Teen about mental health and what was happening to me, in age appropriate ways. I worked really hard to hide the true extent of my struggles from both of my girls. And only later, as I started to claw my way out of this darkness did I begin to tell a few close friends that it was so bad that once again I had devised an exit strategy.


“The next time,” one of my best friends said, “please call me when it gets that bad.” But I don’t, only being able to talk about it when it’s not so immediate and dark. In part because I don’t want to be that person, I don’t want to be that person whose brain gets messed up and who contemplates things like exit strategies. I love my husband, I love my kids, and I’m blessed to be able to do the things I love – be a YA librarian and write my blog. But depression and anxiety aren’t really about liking your life, they are about brain chemistry and hormones and, in my case, totally messed up thyroid function. Sometimes you never find a specific cause, it’s just a thing that happens and when it does each person must find the right course of treatment to help them.

I said to my close friend recently, “It must be so hard being my friend.” To which she replied, “No, it’s not hard at all. Though it is sometimes scary.” There was so much grace in this statement, this idea that loving me isn’t hard and the thought of losing me is scary. It spoke of my life as having value at a time when I needed reminding that what was happening wasn’t my fault and people do care.

This week was suicide prevention week. In addition to my own personal struggles, in the last 4 years I have had 4 friends or teens take or attempt to take their own lives. Three of them succeeded. One of them now suffers from brain damage and permanent disability. I have friends who constantly mourn, years later, the loss of a loved one from suicide. Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among teens and it is on the rise among adults in part due to our failing economy and the very real financial struggles and stress these events put upon us. 1 in 5 teens and 1 and 4 adults is struggling with some type of mental health issue.

So why am I sharing this with you? There are many who claim that suicide is a selfish act, but when you are in the thick of it, it doesn’t feel that way. I know that at the times that I was truly thinking about exit strategies I did so out of my desire to end the very real pain happening inside my body, and the pain I perceived I was causing and thought I would continue to cause my family. I didn’t want to continue to be a physical, emotional and, most importantly, financial burden on my family. And the physical pain that comes with some symptoms of depression and, for me, more specifically anxiety, are very difficult to live with.

I don’t actually want to die. And I certainly don’t want to take my own life. But depression and anxiety can trick your brain into thinking that would be the best solution for everyone involved. I have thought that my kids would be better off without me. I have felt broken and abandoned and alone and a burden. I have been ashamed, too ashamed to ask for the help and love I needed. But somehow, I have been lucky, because in the end I have always eventually asked for help when I needed it. Sometimes it has come close, dangerously close to being too late. This summer The Mr. and Mary and Mike and Ally and Amanda and Robin and Heather and my girls helped me once again claw my way out of darkness. They were patient and kind and did simple things like text me daily and say I love you and you will get through this. There was a time when I didn’t think I would, and now I am, day by day. Today I’m doing pretty good, reminding me that there is hope.

Even though it has happened before, I am always surprised when it happens again. It’s not something I choose, it’s not something that anyone would choose. I’m happy, enjoying swimming with my kids and reading books and being a success at work and then slowly it starts to creep in again. And because I don’t choose it I can’t just choose to be better. For me, it takes a combination of medication – thyroid support and other medications – and love, support and kindness from the people I love. The Mr., he is as patient as a saint and more kind that it seems should be humanly possible.

I was devastated when one of the teens from my library took his own life shortly after graduation. I felt not anger, because I understood where he might be coming from, but a tremendous amount of sadness to know that he was in that dark place where you start thinking about exit strategies. When you work with teens, it’s important to keep in mind that at all times several of your teens are trying to slay their own mental health dragons, some of them are failing and trying to think of their own exit strategies. It’s also important to remember that you are in no way qualified to help when these issues arrive, though you can do small things like be a caring, nonjudgmental adult who takes the time to affirm the value of their existence. Listen. Be patient. Be kind. Remember that some of the “baddest”, most “difficult” kids may be wrestling with issues that really deserve different labels. What we see as difficult may in fact be a code for hurting. Now, more than ever, we should always chose kind. Sometimes that one kind moment can be the difference between following through on an exit strategy and finding the courage to ask for help. You often will never know, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.


For more on teens and mental health, please visit the TLT #MHYALit Discussion Hub


O Captain, My Captain: In which I mourn the loss of a childhood hero and discuss depression and suicide

Last night I came home from working at my library with a DVD in hand to watch with my family. It was 10 o’clock, but it’s one of our last few nights where we can stay up late so I went to slip it in. As the DVD player opened, a movie sat inside of it. That movie was A Night at the Museum. It’s not surprising that it was in there, it is one of the girls favorite movies. I have seen it a lot, glancing at it over their shoulders as I look up from the pages of the book I am reading. It brings them so much joy.

A few weeks ago, I decided The Tween was finally ready to watch Dead Poet’s Society with me. One of my favorite movies. Ever. In the end, when Neil Perry takes his life, The Tween began sobbing. What is he doing she asked? Why? So we had a conversation, about how it might feel to have no hope. About what it was like to be stuck in a place of such utter darkness that you couldn’t imagine a future anymore that didn’t involve despair.

When I first moved from Ohio to Texas, one of the teens from my hometown took his life. I found out when one of my favorite teens, a teen from my previous library that I keep in contact with (he’s an adult now, it’s okay), broke out in despair on Facebook. Just the year before, another individual that I worked with at the local public radio station had taken his own life. And just a few month’s later, the neighbor of a friend, the father of a teen I knew well from my previous library, attempted to take his life. He failed, but he put a bullet in his brain that caused severe damage that changed the landscape of all their lives. These past few years I have seen far too many people take or attempt to take their lives and the statistics indicate that suicide rates are indeed rising.

I cried yesterday at work when I saw the news about Robin Williams. I cried because Robin Williams is such a familiar face from the landscape of my life. I grew up watching Mork and Mindy. The Mr. and I saw Aladdin on one of our early dates. My kids watch A Night at the Museum the way I watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer, over and over and over again.

I cried because I understood all too well what darkness and the absence of hope feels like. When I miscarried my second baby, the only thing that got me out of bed each day was the knowledge that I had to find a way to take care of The Tween, who was only four at the time. There were times where it felt physically impossible to even lift my limbs.

I cried because I knew the long term ache that this kind of loss leaves in the hearts of all those that love someone who takes their own life. I have friends who speak often of the devastating guilt and overwhelming loss that the suicide of a loved one has left on their families, on them. But suicide is not a selfish act, it is a desperate act. It is the act of someone who has no reason to believe that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, they can’t even imagine that there is an end to the tunnel. There is at times nothing but this tunnel, this dark, overwhelming tunnel that lies and whispers that suicide is the only way to end both the very real mental and physical pain.

I cried because I know how hard it can be to admit that you are struggling with depression in a world that still stigmatizes it; a world that still tells you to think positive thoughts or suggests that even just forcing yourself to turn your frown upside down into a smile can change your mood. And with all the discussions we have been having recently about mental health in the United States, it is still hard to get any let alone enough medical insurance to cover effective mental health treatment.

Depression is an illness. It is not a character flaw. It is not someone just not trying hard enough or having a pessimistic attitude. It is not someone having a lack of faith, as a Christian friend of mine often expressed. It is not karmic retribution. It is real and it is a daily battle for those who struggle with this disease.

1 in 12 teens suffers from depression. Mental Health America suggests that 1 in 5 teens may suffer from clinical depression. And some of the others, their families are affected by depression as a parent or a sibling wrestles with the disease and it impacts them all. Know who to refer the teens in your area to for help. Know that the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255.

Come this fall, I will take my girls to the movies to see the latest installment of A Night at the Museum, and I will cry. I will cry because it looks like another person lost their fight against the darkness that is depression. I will cry because that little alien from an egg that brought me so much joy in my childhood is no longer around to say Nanoo Nanoo. And I will cry  every time I open my favorite book of poetry and see O’ Captain, My Captain.

By all accounts, Robin Williams probably had the means to get good health care to help fight his depression, and yet it appears he still lost the battle. I can’t help but think of all those who don’t have access to health care or insurance. All those who come from broken homes and may not have someone to call in their worst moments. Or all those who live among people who don’t understand what depression is so they can’t get the help that they need. We have to do more to de-stigmatize depression and help people get access to the resources they need to fight this disease. I’m tired of these tears, let’s do something different in the fight against depression. 

Mental Health Resources 
13 Reasons Why: Teens and Suicide
One Day is Not Enough 

Book Review: A Really Awesome Mess by Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin

Just when you thought Egmont Week was over….. one more review from their fall catalog!

The writing pair behind Notes from the Blender, a great bit of realistic fiction about the complications and joys of becoming, through no effort of your own, part of a blended family during high school, is back for another novel with a shared narration.  Emmy and Justin alternate chapters, detailing the daily grind of life at Heartland Academy, a school and treatment facility for teens who are… well, a really awesome mess.

I really enjoyed Notes from the Blender and the interplay between Cook and Halpin’s voices and perspectives.  The same technique is used here, and though the book is definitely enjoyable, I didn’t feel the same “zing” as in their previous collaboration, perhaps because there’s less humor in the subject matter, and perhaps because both characters need to focus inward so much more because of their situations.

Emmy, adopted as a baby from China by a Caucasian American family (who had a biological child just a few months after the adoption was final) struggles with an eating disorder and her feelings of abandonment and otherness, in addition to her anger over an incident of cyberbullying and sexual harassment at her previous school.  Justin claims he wasn’t really trying to kill himself when he took a bunch of Tylenol, but in combination with some inappropriate sexual behavior, the cry for help was heard loud and clear and he lands in Heartland too.

As Emmy and Justin learn the ins and outs of institutional life and get to know their roommates and groupmates, they begin to let down their guard enough to accept help and friendship when it is offered them.  Each finally admits that they have some issues that they need to work on, and begins to see their life before Heartland in a different way.

The cast of supporting characters is certainly interesting, and as you might expect from a book whose peer group of focus is a therapy group, each has a backstory and complexity that is slowly revealed.  There’s a sideplot regarding a pig, which seemed a little contrived and stretched the walls of believability, but certainly broke this book away from the realm of predictable and lightened the mood significantly, buoying it on toward the happy conclusion.

The promise of hope and healing is strong here.  Put this on your list of books for teens with “issues”, recommend it to those who might like other books about teens struggling with mental health issues but might want something a little lighter.  This book is more about the process of understanding that a problem exists than delving deeply into the complexity of one specific disorder as is done in Wintergirls or Cut.  Keep in mind that though there’s lots of talk of sex, there isn’t actually much physical contact at all between the main characters, whose relationship builds slowly after many fits and starts, and progresses in a really mature way with self-awareness and good sense.

Booklist (July 1, 2013) says, “The bawdy, witty, and sarcastic style balances out the intense therapy discourse and the pensive self-reflection found elsewhere in this irreverent take on mental health, recovery, and wellness.” – Jones, Courtney.

A Really Awesome Mess by Tish Cook and Brendan Halpin.  Published July 23 by Egmont USA.  ISBN: 9781606843642.

More on Body Image and Eating Disorders in YA Lit at TLT
Body Image and Eating Disorders
Top 10 teen titles dealing with body image and eating disorders
The Girl in the Fiberglass Corset; a story about scoliosis and eating disorders
Sex Sells, but what are we selling?
Let’s Hear it for the Boys 
Pop Culture and Body Image Issues for Gay Teens, a guest post 
National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: True confessions from a recovering anorexic

Teen Obesity and Body Image:
Every Day by David Levithan, a book review
Butter by Erin Jade Lange, a book review
The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, a book review
Skinny by Donna Conner, a review
A Second Opinion: Every Day by David Levithan
10 Titles that deal with Obesity and Body Image (with links to some good articles)
Today is Love Your Body Day
The Effects of Pop Culture on the Body Image of GLBT Teens
Body Image and Weight Loss 
Sex Sells, but what are we selling? Pop culture and body image issues in tweens and teens 
Take a Second Look: Books that encourage teens to look beyond body image 
Abercrombie and Fitch, Brave and Body Image: Part 1 and Part 2   

Book Review: Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia by Jenny Torres Sanchez (An ARC giveaway!)

The Excerpt (the beginning paragraphs):
 “The old man across the street is dead.  I don’t know who figured it out or how, but I think he’d been dead for days when they found him.  School has been out for three weeks.  I estimate that would have been the last time I saw him. Alive.

     First the police came, and then the county coroner. We watched, Mom and I and our neighbors who never really talked to the old man, as they wheeled his body away in a black body bag, atop a gurney. The world stood still as they drove him away.  And then, as if someone hit play. it resumed.

     People on our block trickled back into their houses, and Mom went back into ours.  But I sat on our stoop, thinking about the old man. And I haven’t been able to stop thinking about him since he was taken away four days ago.

     I guess death is funny.  Not ‘haha’ funny, but more like screw-with-your-head funny.  It makes you think strange things.  Like how a person can sort of exist but not at the same time.

     I imagine the old man arriving in front of a blinding light, staring at it with his milky eyes and scowlng. And still another part of me imagines him safe inside his house, at his kitchen table, drinking coffee maybe. But the logical part of my brain tells me the truth, that he’s either at the funeral home, or being loaded onto a hearse, or already in the hearse on his way to the cemetery at the end of our block.

     Living here I should be used to death.  But every time a procession goes by.  I wonder about the person inside the hearse.  Did they live happily but die horribly? Or maybe they lived horribly but died happily? Or worse, maybe they lived horribly and died horribly.

    I look at the old man’s house and try to decide if it looks numb.” – Opening scene to Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia by Jenny Torres Sanchez

The Synopsis:
Frenchie Garcia is depressed.  She is about to graduate high school and take off to Chicago with her long time best friend, but everything seems to be changing.  He has started dating the lead singer in a band that just might make it, and as we all know – that changes everything.

But beyond on the normal problems of the changes that accompany the end of high school, there is this: after years of crushing on Andy Cooper, she finally got to spend one amazing night of adventure with him.  She just didn’t realize it would be his last night alive.  Sometime after he left Frenchie that evening, he committed suicide.  And Frenchie is reeling – did she miss something that night? Were there clues? Could she have stopped him?

Which brings us to two important people: Emily Dickinson – no not that Emily Dickson, though Frenchie likes to pretend that it is – and Colin.  When visiting the grave of not the real Emily Dickinson at the cemetery at the end of her street doesn’t help, Frenchie grabs the new guy in her life, Colin, and asks him to go on a night of daring adventure, where she goes back through the steps of that last night with Andy.  Along the way, will she find the answers she is looking for?

The Review:

This is hands down my favorite read so far in 2013 in terms of cutting edge, contemporary fiction and I am going to go out on a limb and say that it could be a real potential Printz winner.  Why?  Well, I am so glad you asked.

THE VOICE.  No, not the TV show. Sanchez captures the voice of Frenchie – and of adolescence and depression and confusion – spot on.  Frenchie is depressed, she is difficult, she is angsty, and at times completely unlikable, and yet because you the reader know why, your heart overflows with compassion for her.  Like John Green and A. S. King, Sanchez creates a spot-on teenage character that has a fabulous voice that is authentic, raw, and completely relateable for teen readers everywhere.

She laughs, “You’re only seventeen.  How can you be having a midlife crisis?”
“Maybe I’m gong to die at thrity or something, in what case, I’m late.” – page 78

In addition, Sanchez captures the fear and anxiety of graduating high school perfectly.  It’s huge! It’s scary! It’s so unknown; bot the thing that all teens wait for and yet, what a terrifying moment, to step off the edge of that cliff into the world of adulthood with new places, new people, and, most teens hope, a new you.  But Frenchie’s moment, her gigantic step off that cliff, is cast under the shadow of guilt and confusion and fear cause by this moment, this one night.  This death is the branch that her shirt catches on and keeps her from moving forward.  She is stuck in this swamp of despair and doesn’t know how to move forward.

“And now, I’ll tell you the only thing that matters. It’s that you make your own future . . . Because the future is like clay, every day you mold it, every day people leave impressions that change its form.  It’s never concrete, it’s always changing.  We might see some things, possibilities, but you are the one who decides what form your life takes.” – page 136

A large portion of DDDLFG takes place in a night as Frenchie relives the moments of THAT night.  In alternating chapters you have the night with Frenchie and Andy and the night with Frenchie and Colin.  This is the perfect storytelling device that allows for a slow unfolding of both nights and the little glimpses into all three characters.  This is definitely the strongest part of DDDLFG and its shining moments.

The only thing that drove me crazy about Frenchie is that she told no one about what really happened, not her best friend, not her parents. No one.  So everyone is king of concerned and frustrated with her behavior with no sympathy towards her.  It’s like an episode of Lost or The Walking Dead, you scream at the characters, just take a moment to talk to each other already.  But no, this is in fact a very realistic thing, because many teens would hold a secret like this inside and try to work through it alone.  So her friends are reacting to one situation, which is an incorrect assumption, and Frenchie is living an entirely different one.  There are some complex relationship issues being played out, and it is also done well.

I give Death, Dickinson and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia (which may be the longest title ever) 5 out of 5 stars.  Fans of A. S. King will eat this title up I think.  It also reminded me of Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. On the quoatability meter, it rocks: there are so many perfectly, written elegantly written sentences that capture the essence of life.  And do I dare? Yes, I dare, fans of The Perks of Being a Wallflower will eat it up. And I loved it so much that I contacted the author, Jenny Torres Sanchez, and asked her (no, begged her) to please give me an ARC so I can give it away and let others read it.  So leave a comment (with either a follow back on Twitter or an e-mail) by Friday, April 5th, 2013 to be entered to win this ARC.

One day is not enough: Suicide Prevention Day (by Heahter B.)

World Suicide Prevention Day was September 10th, twenty days ago. I didn’t know it at the time. I found a postcard on my desk, buried in catalogs and other mail, reminding me of this fact just this morning. I have a love/hate relationship with these types of days. Part of me feels like it does a disservice to relegate awareness of these problems to just one day; it should always be on our minds. At the same time, I realize that awareness of so many worthwhile causes would fall by the wayside unless a big to-do is made about them one day a year; one week a year; one month a year. And even this one day passed me by without my noticing.

As people who can lead teens to useful information, maybe suicide and self-harm is more present in teen librarians’ awareness than others. We are sure to have up to date books on our shelves. We put out any bookmarks or posters with help lines that come our way. We smile at teens. We welcome them to our space. We help them feel important. We try. Sometimes it must work, right? But sometimes it doesn’t and though the failing isn’t ours alone, or at all, if a teen in our community commits suicide there isn’t one of us who hasn’t wished we could’ve done something to help.

Twenty days ago was the big to-do. But it’s obviously still an issue. We all remind teens to buckle up, drive safely, don’t text while driving. No one bats an eye at these constant reminders to take care of oneself. But when I think about the young lives that have ended around me, the sad truth is that it wasn’t cars or violence or disease that ended most of those lives, it was suicide.

That postcard was a reminder to me, so I’m passing it on, twenty days late or just in time. Here’s a reminder, from me to you.

What you can do:

Post information about crisis hotlines in your teen space or on your website: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/GetInvolved/Materials

Know the warning signs and don’t feel foolish about taking steps if you fear for the life of one of the teens with whom you work:

Check out the free course offerings from the Society of Prevention of Teen Suicide:

Look over your nonfiction offerings and make sure nothing needs to be replaced, updated, or withdrawn. Be sure to include in this review your sections on depression, coping with grief, GLBTQ acceptance, bullying, anxiety, and stress relief.

Please use the comment section to share your resources and stories of how teen librarians can be allies to teens struggling with suicidal thoughts.


Thirteen Reasons Why: Teens and Suicide

“Why did you do it man, I thought you were stronger than that.”  That was the Facebook post last week that made me realize that something very horrible had happened to a young man who had spent several years coming to some of my teen programs at a previous library position.  A boy that had just graduated high school and was trying to find his way as a grown up in this world as a man.  Slowly through a series of FB posts I realized what I feared was true: he had committed suicide.

Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among teens and young adults.  Research by the National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center indicates that 1 in 5 teens have thought about suicide.  More than 1 in 12 teens actually attempt suicide.  In addition:

“Teen girls and boys are both at risk for suicide. Teen girls are more likely to attempt suicide, but teenage boys are four to five times more likely to die by suicide. Over half of teen suicide deaths are inflicted by guns.” (from teendepression.org)

In an attempt to deal with my own emotions regarding this young man’s suicide, I bought and re-read a copy of Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher.  I then donated my copy to my library because all of ours are lost, a testament perhaps to the power of this book.

Thirteen Reasons Why begins with a young man named Clay receiving a box of 13 audio tapes.  You see, in the days before Hannah Baker committed suicide, she made 13 audio tapes explaining to 13 people why she took her life and the part that they played:

“I hope you’re ready, because I’m about to tell you the story of my life. More specifically, why my life ended. And if you’re listening to these tapes, you’re one of the reasons why.”  – Jay Asher, Thirteen Reasons Why

Clay is instructed by Hannah’s now eerie voice to listen to the tapes completely and then pass them on to the next person mentioned on the tapes.  Hannah assures them that there is a second copy of tapes and someone watching to make sure they all listen; if they fail to follow her instructions she will have them publicly released – which many of the 13 would not want. 

“You can’t stop the future
You can’t rewind the past
The only way to learn the secret
…is to press play.” – Jay Asher, Thirteen Reasons Why

There is also a map that highlights different locations that Hannah wants the listeners to visit.  The story takes place over the course of one night as Clay listens to the tapes and visits the places indicated on the map.  In the course of this night Clay begins to understand who Hannah was, and wasn’t.  He begins to understand how each little event, some of which he witnessed, added together to make a horrible experience for Hannah.  And most importantly, Clay learns that the signs were there if they had simply paid attention; maybe someone could have helped her.

Thirteen Reasons Why is a beautiful but difficult story that reminds us all of the power of words.  It is also the story of how hard it is to truly know a person.  But most importantly, it is a reminder to us all about the difficulties of high school and the teenage years and the importance of approaching one another with kindness and grace.  It shows us how quickly a rumor can spiral out of control and how difficult it can be to undo the damage.

Thirteen Reasons Why is a powerful book for discussion.  There are a couple of places with discussion questions online:  The Book-ers, 13reasonswhy.com, and Goodreads.  You can also download a copy of the map at the book’s official website.

In the book itself there are some questions that author Jay Asher answers about writing this novel.

You can download and hear the Hannah Baker tapes at YouTube

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ushyNJhnrs]

At the official site for the book, it is revealed that the book is being made into a movie with Selena Gomez set to star.  The complete tapes for the books can also be found here.

As someone who works with teens, I encourage you to learn the warning signs of suicide.  The book mentions change in appearance as a sign in addition to withdrawal and a change in mood.  Most teens will display warning signs so it is important to be familiar with them.

If you see the warning signs in a teen, check with your library policy and director to find out how you should respond and who you may contact as most libraries have some policies in place regarding confidentiality laws.  If you have a good relationships with your schools you may be able to put a bug in their ear for the school counselor to follow up on.  If you are a school librarian this will be much easier for you to do.

For further reading, LibraryThing has a good list of teen fiction that deals with teen suicide.

For teens who have lost hope, there are various resources they can contact to help them find it:
We Can Help Us at ReachOut.com

The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide

And it is an unconventional resource, often not safe for teens. but PostSecret.com has a strong mission to help prevent suicide.

Since we are in the information business, let’s make sure teens have the information they need to get help, or help a friend, if they need it.  Even though it has been more than a year since I have seen this young man that took his own life, it has left me reeling and it has left many of the teens I have served and loved devastated.  I don’t want to see another teen life wasted only to become a senseless statistic.

“No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Oftentimes, we have no clue. Yet we push it just the same.” – Jay Asher, Thirteen Reasons Why