Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Friday Finds: May 7, 2021

This Week at TLT

Sunday Reflections: What Do We Do When We Know the Book is a Lie?

The Queer Kids Are All Right, a guest post by James Sie

The Reality of Unrealistic, a guest post by Emery Lee

Perfectly Imperfect, a guest post by Corey Ann Haydu

Author Molly E. Lee on “The Creative Spark”, a guest post

The Black Best Friend, a guest post by Joya Goffney

Joy, Connection and Community: Finding Pride in Books During a Pandemic, a conversation between Robin Stevenson and Tom Ryan

Book Review: Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry by Joya Goffney

Influenced by Influencers, a guest post by Jessica Patrick

Cindy Crushes Programming: 10 Popular Fandoms to Base Teen Programming On, by Teen Librarian Cindy Shutts

The Drowned Histories of Appalachia, a guest post by author Juliana Brandt

Book Review: When You Get the Chance by Tom Ryan and Robin Stevenson

Fun Fiction can Sell STEM, a guest post by Susan McCormick

Around the Web

The pandemic has killed off snow days in New York City’s public schools

Netflix Legal-Drama Movie ‘Monster’: Plot, Cast, Trailer & Netflix Release Date – RELEASED TODAY!

Republicans Come Out Against Universal Daycare, Saying It’s for Soviets and Abnormal People

A Proclamation on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day, 2021

Nation’s Largest HBCU Sees Record-Breaking Donations

Netflix Releases Trailer for “Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Eternal The Movie”

Fun Fiction can Sell STEM, a guest post by Susan McCormick

How to stimulate an interest in STEM and health-related fields? My middle schooler’s science class was waiting to be dazzled by the chicken wing dissection. As a doctor, writer, and mother classroom volunteer, I was certain this demonstration of the exciting connection between muscles and tendons and bones would lead to awe and wonder and a gush of queries about the wide world of science and scientific careers. I opened and closed the wing, placed it in their hands, showed them the thin strips of tissue coordinating all the action. Did I see sudden passion? Fascination? Jumping-over-the-desk enthusiasm? No.

They would definitely want to hear about my journey to becoming a doctor, then. And they did. They had polite questions and inciteful comments. But they never showed the same interest in chicken wings or medical school as they did about another topic they were studying. Mythology. Greek gods. Beasts with multiple heads. Fathers who swallowed their children whole. The kids learned it in humanities, but they already knew everything there was to know and then some. Why? Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief series. If there was an obvious career path involving mythology, it would be flooded.


The author with medical school books from the preclinical years.

Fiction offers a framework to package knowledge into an engaging read. Most information is interesting in its own right but enticing and engrossing when embedded in a story. Add adventure and suspense and humor and a kid who could be any of us, and it is no wonder why The Lightning Thief is such a success.

Was there such a fiction series about medicine? The human body? Ailments and health? The excitement of biology or chemistry or engineering or math? Excluding books that deal with video games, very few.

Who would have thought mythology could be so popular? A good story provides the bridge. Books can make science and medicine appealing, too. Cool. Popular. Kids know about scientists and white coats and laboratories. Boring stuff. Savvy kids even know about years of laboring at an experiment before it comes to fruition, if it ever does. Endless learning in medical school, then residency, then fellowship. Multiple botched rocket launches until one finally takes to the skies. Medication trials that look promising, only to close at the last minute due to side effects. Kids also need to know the flip side, the importance, the relevance, the satisfaction that comes from small successes and all those years.

The need for the objectivity and critical thinking that science provides has never been more glaring than today. The demand for future scientists, for inventors, for health-care workers is great. We children’s authors can embrace our role in the challenge. I set out to create a thrilling tale weaving in maladies much like The Lightning Thief weaves in mythology. In The Antidote, Alex Revelstoke discovers a family secret. He can see disease. And not just disease, but injury, illness, anything wrong with the body. He sees skin melt away to reveal the organs beneath, much to his shock and horror. He comes from a family of doctors with this extra gift, going back generations, helping, healing. But Revelstokes are locked in a centuries-old war with ancient evil itself, an entity called ILL, the creator and physical embodiment of disease. Alex is the last Revelstoke. Alex, plus a special dog and a mysterious girl, must battle ILL and his new super disease, worse than polio, worse than smallpox.


The author’s dog, Albert the Newfoundland, who was the inspiration for the dog in the story.

Kids learn about polio and smallpox in school through FDR and through the devastation infections brought to American Indians. Kids have encountered disease. A grandma had a heart attack, an uncle had an ulcer, a friend has a food allergy. They hear about appendicitis and diabetes and sudden death in young athletes. These illnesses appear in The Antidote’s adventure, described and explained even as the action unfolds. I threw in hidden safety tips like how to do a Heimlich maneuver and when to use an AED, an Automated External Defibrillator. Young people can only gain by understanding more about the body, health, and medicine.

In no other time in recent history, not since the polio epidemic of their grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generation, have the world’s children been directly, incredibly affected by disease, death, and the fear that accompanies it. The Antidote speaks to this, not with anything specifically about the current COVID-19 situation, but with the story winding through pandemics and infectious diseases of the past like plague, polio, smallpox, Spanish flu, measles, leprosy, etc. An added informative section at the end describes these diseases in further detail for curious readers. The COVID-19 pandemic is horrific, but not unique, and it helps knowing there have been times in history like this, and that science came through and the world prevailed.


The author heading out to give COVID-19 vaccines at a mass vaccination site

The events of 2020 have forced kids to experience disease firsthand, but also see firsthand the healers and scientists who are heroes and who have sparked a worldwide interest in science. Whole career fields were revealed to young people who knew nothing of them before. Frontline responders, EMTs, doctors, nurses, and technicians all helped diagnose and treat. Mechanical engineers designed negative pressure rooms in hospitals overnight and refitted schools and buildings with new airflow systems. Biomedical and other engineers rethought ventilators and oxygen saturation monitors. Research scientists, vaccine makers, and virologists discovered the virus, created the testing, produced the vaccines. Computer scientists developed programs to register people for vaccinations, then worked out the bugs and the crashes. Kids saw science save the world, and many will choose a career in science themselves.

Now is the time. Young people are interested in science. Children’s authors and books with engrossing STEM stories can encourage this interest. While steeped in science, though, at heart The Antidote is an adventure, with good vs. evil, and I want kids to enjoy the story. Enough to be part of the inspiration.

Meet the author

Susan McCormick is a writer and doctor who lives in Seattle. She graduated from Smith College and George Washington University School of Medicine and served as a doctor for nine years in the US Army before moving to the Pacific Northwest and civilian practice. In addition to The Antidote, a timely middle grade medical fantasy, she writes The Fog Ladies cozy murder mystery series. She also wrote Granny Can’t Remember Me, a lighthearted picture book about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. She is married with two boys, neither of whom can see disease. She loves giant dogs and has had St. Bernards, a Mastiff, Earl, and two Newfoundlands, Edward and Albert. Unlike the dog in the book, they had no special powers, except the ability to shake drool onto the ceiling.

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About The Antidote

Twelve-year-old Alex Revelstoke is different. He can see disease. Also injury, illness, and anything else wrong with the body. This comes in handy when a classmate chokes on a hot dog or when the janitor suffers a heart attack unclogging a gooey science experiment gone awry. But Alex soon learns his new ability puts him and an unsuspecting world in peril. Throughout time, Revelstokes have waged a battle against ancient evil itself. A man, a being, an essence–the creator of disease. Alex has seen its darkness. He has felt its strength. He does not want to fight. But Alex is the last Revelstoke. The war has just begun.

ISBN-13: 9781509235667
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Publication date: 05/05/2021

Middle Grade

Book Review: When You Get the Chance by Tom Ryan and Robin Stevenson

Publisher’s description

Follow cousins on a road trip to Pride as they dive into family secrets and friendships in this contemporary novel—perfect for fans of David Levithan and Becky Albertalli.
 
As kids, Mark and his cousin Talia spent many happy summers together at the family cottage in Ontario, but a fight between their parents put an end to the annual event. Living on opposite coasts—Mark in Halifax and Talia in Victoria—they haven’t seen each other in years. When their grandfather dies unexpectedly, Mark and Talia find themselves reunited at the cottage once again, cleaning it out while the family decides what to do with it.
 
Mark and Talia are both queer, but they soon realize that’s about all they have in common, other than the fact that they’d both prefer to be in Toronto. Talia is desperate to see her high school sweetheart Erin, who’s barely been in touch since leaving to spend the summer working at a coffee shop in the Gay Village. Mark, on the other hand, is just looking for some fun, and Toronto Pride seems like the perfect place to find it.
 
When a series of complications throws everything up in the air, Mark and Talia—with Mark’s little sister Paige in tow—decide to hit the road for Toronto. With a bit of luck, and some help from a series of unexpected new friends, they might just make it to the big city and find what they’re looking for. That is, if they can figure out how to start seeing things through each other’s eyes.

Amanda’s thoughts

This book was good fun. I’ll say more, obviously, but sometimes a quick little review like that should sell it, when combined with the summary up there of the story. It was good fun and features characters who are vibrant, interesting, and grow satisfactorily over the course of this short book. Also, I loved the length of this book! That might seem like a silly thing to be psyched about, but it was just the right length. Probably one of my most frequent feelings about books is that it was just a little too long, or, in some cases, way too long. Part of that is my reaction because my goal in life is to blow through as many books as humanly possible, and shorter books makes that easier, but part of that reaction is because some stories just should be shorter. Anyway. This book: fun, great characters, perfect length. So go read it.

Okay. Fine. A bit more. I love that this book is about cousins, and that maybe we should think they will be instant best friends, despite their years of estrangement, because Mark is gay and Talia is queer, but they’re not. They butt heads, they make assumptions, and they don’t always understand each other—not to mention they both can be kind of insufferable. But they’re family, going through a tough time for their families, and together with their parents and grandma, are going to have to work it out. I really also loved how neatly the authors got the parents out of the picture so that Mark, his 10-year-old sister Paige, and Talia could have their adventures. Family crisis? Bye, parents! I also adored all of the characters they met on their way to Toronto for Pride. Also, Talia and Erin’s relationship (together for three years, breaking up, maybe, now that high school is over) was super relatable and allowed them both to investigate their MANY complicated feelings and needs.

A fun little adventure that will probably leave you wishing you had a Paige in your life. Full of family drama, new experiences, and the very real teenage desire to both discover new things and have comfortable things stay the same.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780762495009
Publisher: Running Press Book Publishers
Publication date: 05/04/2021
Age Range: 13 – 18 Years

Influenced by Influencers, a guest post by Jessica Patrick

I have a five-year-old son, and, without even knowing how it happened, the two of us found ourselves down the wormhole of child toy influencers on YouTube. These kids get filmed by their parents opening and playing with toys – new toys every episode, always opening, opening, opening. Always holding the box up to the camera, brand logo clearly displayed. Although my son enjoyed these videos, something about them always made me wildly uncomfortable – something about the parents exploiting these children, making money off their youthful love of play. Then one day I googled a particular channel that kept popping up on my son’s little kid algorithm and saw this toy-opening child, and his parents, made $29 million in 2020.

Yikes.

These videos are now banned in our house. I just can’t.

But even with these toy videos outlawed, I can’t get away from this influencer culture entirely. It’s everywhere! In addition to being an author, I’m also a high school librarian, and everywhere I look, I see how much and how thoroughly my own students are, well, influenced by these influencers.

I knew things were serious when I started to hear answers like Soundcloud rapper, YouTuber, and sponsored Instagrammer to the old “what do you want to be when you grow up” question. And, honestly, who can blame these high school kids for having dreams like this? When there are eight-year-olds making millions on millions of dollars per year for playing with toys on camera vs adults sitting at a desk for eight hours a day making barely above minimum wage…which life looks more aspirational? I’d want in on that action, too.

I found myself coming back to the idea of social media influencers a lot, so, even though the standard suggestion is to avoid too much pop culture in your writing to keep your books timeless, I decided to explore a little bit of influencer culture in my latest YA novel This Is For Tonight.

This Is For Tonight takes place over a weekend at a music festival, and it features rival YouTubers, Andi and Jay, competing in a corporate-sponsored contest for social media influencers to win an interview with the festival’s headlining band.

Andi has a YouTube channel all about crafting because it’s her passion and she loves sharing it. Her channel is a small one, with a handful of followers, but they are a true community. Andi is proud of the content she creates, even though it isn’t getting her a wide audience or making her money.

She has an opportunity to make more money off of her channel, but it involves completely abandoning what she loves and changing herself.

Does she want to do that? Is the money worth it? Why is she doing any of this in the first place?

Jay is a very popular YouTuber who runs a prank channel. In his videos he tricks people and laughs at them for clicks and ad revenue – and business is very good. His most popular video is one where he makes his own grandmother think he’s been hit by a car, and he has also been filmed smashing someone’s phone, stealing someone’s dog, and pushing someone into a small lake.

As we get to know Jay, however, we learn that his online personality is mostly an act, that it’s just a role he plays for the camera because he knows people love it and it will make him money.

How responsible is he for the content he puts out in the world…especially if he profits from it? Is there a difference between curating a personality for the internet and an actor playing a role on TV or in a movie?

I thought these were such interesting questions – ones that I kept coming back to as I watched the fifteenth YouTube video of a kid getting excited over a corporately sponsored new toy (and then hearing my own kid ask me to buy him this toy) or scrolling through my own Instagram feed to find picture after heavily-filtered picture of a Z-list celeb trying to sell Tummy Tea (and then having that flash of feeling bad about my own body, despite knowing that what I’m looking at isn’t even real). And I especially mulled over it all as I had one of my own Instagram posts (about state testing, of all things) unexpectedly go viral.

I don’t know the answers. And I don’t know that our influencer-obsessed culture will be able to agree on answers, anyway. But I certainly enjoy being part of the conversation…as long as I don’t have to watch another toy video ever again.

Meet the author

Jessica Patrick runs a high school library by day, writes YA romance by night, and pets as many dogs as possible in between. She lives in Southern California with her cute family and she has an MFA from Spalding University, an annual passport to Disneyland, and about 75 tabs open on her internet browser. She is the author of This Is For Tonight.

She has also writes as Jessica Love and is the author of In Real Life and Push Girl.

Website: http://www.jessica-patrick.com

Twitter: @readwritejess 

Instagram: @readwritejess

About This Is For Tonight

When Andi attends a music festival with one goal in mind – capture an interview with a famous band so she can pay for college – she gets more than she bargained for in this YA novel about family ties and finding your own way.

Andi Kennedy needs to make money for college, and fast. But her little YouTube crafting channel, while fun, isn’t exactly a money maker. So she’s heading to the world-famous Cabazon Valley Music and Arts Festival with a goal – film a video that will launch her channel into popularity and turn it into a legit money making venture, even if it means selling out her creative vision.

Instead, she finds obnoxious Jay Bankar, the annoyingly hot host of a popular prank channel who is the actual worst. Andi hates everything Jay stands for, which makes the undeniable connection she feels with him really freaking inconvenient. Soon she finds herself competing with Jay for an interview with the festival’s headlining band, which could be the key to turning her little channel directly into college tuition. But she’s starting to discover that there is more to Jay than his jerky on-screen persona, and she has to decide what’s more important – winning, or giving a second chance to a guy who couldn’t be more wrong for her. 

ISBN-13: 9781250757159
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication date: 05/04/2021
Age Range: 13 – 18 Years

Book Review: Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry by Joya Goffney

Publisher’s description

Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry by debut author Joya Goffney is an own voices story of an overly enthusiastic list maker who is blackmailed into completing a to-do list of all her worst fears. It’s a heartfelt, tortured, contemporary YA high school romance. Fans of Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and Kristina Forest’s I Wanna Be Where You Are will love the juicy secrets and leap-off-the-page sexual tension.

Quinn keeps lists of everything—from the days she’s ugly cried, to “Things That I Would Never Admit Out Loud” and all the boys she’d like to kiss. Her lists keep her sane. By writing her fears on paper, she never has to face them in real life. That is, until her journal goes missing . . .

Then an anonymous account posts one of her lists on Instagram for the whole school to see and blackmails her into facing seven of her greatest fears, or else her entire journal will go public. Quinn doesn’t know who to trust. Desperate, she teams up with Carter Bennett—the last known person to have her journal—in a race against time to track down the blackmailer.

Together, they journey through everything Quinn’s been too afraid to face, and along the way, Quinn finds the courage to be honest, to live in the moment, and to fall in love.

Amanda’s thoughts

I totally and completely loved this book. This is one of my top reads of the year so far!

Quinn’s notebook is full of everything—to-do lists, how-to lists, random thoughts, secrets, lies, and so many things she wouldn’t dream of sharing with anyone. When her classmate Carter grabs it instead of his own notebook and takes it home, everything starts to fall apart. The notebook goes missing, someone is blackmailing Quinn into doing things on her various lists, and they’re sharing her personal secrets with the whole school. Even though Quinn still sort of suspects that Carter is behind this whole thing, she teams up with him to do some things on the list and try to track down who has her notebook.

There is just so much to love about this book. The narrative voice is excellent. I was immediately drawn into Quinn’s world and found her so interesting. She’s a complicated character who has built so much of her identity on her lists and her lies. She has a lot going on in her life, beyond just a lost notebook. Her grandma is in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s and Quinn has really complex feelings about that. Her parents are constantly fighting and Quinn is worried what will happen to her small family once she goes to college. She’s one of only a few Black students at her private school and is surrounded by white kids who are racist, throw around the n-word, and repeatedly say that they see Quinn as basically white. And there’s actually a LOT going on in this book about race, including internalized racism, colorism, and dealing with stereotypes and being the exception to stereotypes. She’s lost her best friend of the past decade but is also making new friends.

Carter sees her losing the notebook as a chance to free herself from who Quinn thinks she has to be. And that becomes true because it turns out when your personal secrets get exposed for all to see, it’s hard to hide behind the lies. Quinn experiences real growth over the course of the story, grappling with loyalty, friendship, identity, connection, privacy, and trust. She learns to let herself feel her true feelings, be her true self, because when you’re forced to come clean, you have to stop lying to everyone, including yourself. A fantastic read. I can’t wait to see what else Goffney writes!

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780063024793
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/04/2021
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

Joy, Connection and Community: Finding Pride in Books During a Pandemic, a conversation between Robin Stevenson and Tom Ryan

Robin: Tom and I are excited to be finally launching our co-written YA novel, just in time for Pride month 2021! Of course, when we started writing this book a few years ago, we could never have guessed what 2021 would look like. I was living on the west coast of Canada, and Tom had moved back to the east coast, and we missed hanging out together in person. So I sent him a text…

Tom: I woke up one day and checked my phone (Nova Scotia is four hours ahead of B.C.) and there was a text from Robin that said something like: hey Tom I just had a great idea, we should a big queer Canadian YA novel together! I didn’t have to think it over, I just texted her back and said obviously! and things went from there. We had a few phone calls to figure out a rough plot, and then we started writing. I wrote the first chapter and sent it to Robin, who wrote one and sent it back to me, and so on and so forth. It was a lot of fun, and a really smooth and rewarding experience. The plot and the characters evolved as we wrote, but we both knew from the start that we wanted it to be really queer in an intergenerational way.

Robin: Over the last few years, I’ve had some wonderful opportunities to talk with teens about LGBTQ+ rights, identities and communities. At one event, a teen came up to me, visibly upset, and explained that they had not known anything about the queer history I had just shared. “It’s MY history,” they said. “It’s the history of MY community. And no one ever talks about this stuff.” It really brought it home to me that queer history isn’t usually passed on to kids by their parents and often isn’t taught in school either. In WYGTC, our teenage characters hear stories from people who came out forty years before them, and they also try to explain things to a much younger sibling–and in both cases, the learning flows in both directions. That very much fits with my experience: I have a huge amount of respect for the hard work done by the generations of queer people who came before me, and I have learned so much from the ideas and activism of today’s teens and kids as well.

Tom: I feel exactly the same way. It’s been such a joy and a privilege to meet and talk with LGBTQ teens since I first started writing YA, and I feel like I’ve learned so much from them. Queer people have always had to go out into the world to find family and community, which is what makes Pride such a central and important concept and event. We were actually supposed to launch this book last year, with appearances at Pride festivals and events around Canada and the U.S. and a launch at Toronto Pride, which has a very central role in the book. Because of Covid, we decided with our publisher to delay our launch by a year, and now we find ourselves in a similar situation. There’s light at the end of the tunnel, but we still can’t gather, and Pride festivals are being cancelled for the second year in a row. It’s a bit of a bummer, but we genuinely hope readers will find some of the joy and connection and community of Pride in our book!

Robin: Absolutely. I know a lot of people have felt very isolated during the pandemic, and I think this last year has been particularly hard for teens. They are at an age when many people want to be stepping out into wider worlds, having more freedom, meeting new people and exploring new places. Instead, most of them have seen their worlds shrink around them! And of course we all know that some LGBTQ+ teens are not able be out to their families and may not have a lot of support at home—so for many of them, not being able to gather with their friends and communities has been devastating. While books can’t replace other kinds of connection, they often do help many readers to feel less alone. Diverse queer representation is more important now than ever, and I am so grateful to everyone who is helping get these books into the hands of teen readers. One important part of Pride is how it makes LGBTQ+ identities and communities more visible, and Tom and I tried to do this within our novel. We wanted readers to feel seen, and we wanted to give them a glimpse of what Pride can be. We hope readers will enjoy going to Pride with Talia and Mark as much as Tom and I did! Happy Pride, everyone!

Tom: Happy Pride indeed! I know there’s a rainbow waiting for us all when these clouds lift, and I honestly can’t wait for the day when we can finally meet up in person and celebrate WYGTC the way we always meant to. It might not be the launch season we expected, but Pride is always worth celebrating.

Meet the authors

TOM RYAN is the award-winning author of six books for children and teens. His debut novel, Way To Go, was a nominee for the OLA White Pine Award, and made the 2013 ALA Rainbow List, as well as YALSA’s 2013 Quick Picks. Tom was born and raised in Inverness, Nova Scotia, and currently lives in Halifax with his husband Andrew and their awesome dog.

ROBIN STEVENSON is the author of more than twenty books for children and teens. Robin’s YA novel A Thousand Shades of Blue was a finalist for Canada’s highest literary honor, and her middle-grade novel Record Breaker won the Silver Birch Award, Canada’s largest reader’s choice award for young readers. Robin lives on the west coast of Canada with her partner and their son.

About When You Get the Chance

Follow cousins on a road trip to Pride as they dive into family secrets and friendships in this contemporary novel—perfect for fans of David Levithan and Becky Albertalli.
 
As kids, Mark and his cousin Talia spent many happy summers together at the family cottage in Ontario, but a fight between their parents put an end to the annual event. Living on opposite coasts—Mark in Halifax and Talia in Victoria—they haven’t seen each other in years. When their grandfather dies unexpectedly, Mark and Talia find themselves reunited at the cottage once again, cleaning it out while the family decides what to do with it.
 
Mark and Talia are both queer, but they soon realize that’s about all they have in common, other than the fact that they’d both prefer to be in Toronto. Talia is desperate to see her high school sweetheart Erin, who’s barely been in touch since leaving to spend the summer working at a coffee shop in the Gay Village. Mark, on the other hand, is just looking for some fun, and Toronto Pride seems like the perfect place to find it.
 
When a series of complications throws everything up in the air, Mark and Talia—with Mark’s little sister Paige in tow—decide to hit the road for Toronto. With a bit of luck, and some help from a series of unexpected new friends, they might just make it to the big city and find what they’re looking for. That is, if they can figure out how to start seeing things through each other’s eyes.

ISBN-13: 9780762495009
Publisher: Running Press Book Publishers
Publication date: 05/04/2021
Age Range: 13 – 18 Years

The Black Best Friend, a guest post by Joya Goffney

I was a girl wearing striped socks up to my knees, oversized headphones blasting screamo music, reading The Color Purple in a gym full of sweaty, talking student bodies during a school-wide free day. He was a boy who might have been sweaty from playing basketball or maybe fatigued from playing too many video games in the computer room—I can’t remember which, but he was more the basketball type.

It was nearing the end of our free day, and I don’t remember how he got my attention, but when I looked up, I fell out of a world of abuse and tragedy and into his amused brown eyes. He looked at me like I was adorable. I slipped one phone off my ear, but I still couldn’t really hear him. He was pointing to a textbook sitting on the bleachers beside me. So I handed it to him, still in a daze, still listening to Underoath. Then, further amused, he pointed to the binder that had been sitting under his textbook. Oh, he wanted that too.

But I was so out of it, and we were surrounded by chaos. What he must have thought of me—so caught up in my book that for the first time ever I wasn’t being overly attentive and nice. What I must have looked like to him—the type of girl to read during a free day, when there were plenty of basketballs up for grabs, boys to flirt with, and games to play. While my friends were all chillin’ outside, I was in the gym, reading about Black women who hadn’t any rights and hardly any voice… because maybe that’s how I felt, too.

My best friends were hanging out with a particular sect of upperclassmen who were alternative, and who thought I wasn’t like the other Black kids at our school, and because of this, thought I could laugh along to their Black jokes. I never spoke up when they laughed at my race. And my friends never really spoke up, either. I fell silent. My friends turned a blind eye and continued to expose me to those upperclassmen who made me feel so small. So, instead, I was in the gym, reading about Celie’s trauma, listening to hard rock, and falling into the eyes of a sweet boy who I thought could see me.

I handed him his binder. He might have said thank you, but I don’t remember saying you’re welcome. It was all implied. We were both so comfortable, and the exchange was so mundane, but the atmosphere had been charged. He wasn’t my obsession at the time, but I didn’t not have a crush on him. In reality, my casual crush on him was probably the most enduring of them all. He was so consistently cute and nice and there.

But, while I was a Black girl with short hair and glasses and white friends who nicknamed me Brownie, he was a white boy who liked to say the N-word when he got drunk at parties. I almost forgot that part of their story, because it had started out so sweet, and he had started out so sweet. I never thought he was capable of forming his lips around that word, but alas, I walked through the front door of his house with two of my Black friends. The party was in full-swing and overwhelmingly white. And the first thing out of his mouth was, “Hey, look! The n*****s are here” —hard R and everything.

The snap back into reality when you realize a non-Black friend isn’t a true ally and doesn’t have your back is more than disappointing—it’s reinforcement of fear that is always at the back of your mind. As Black people mingle with non-Black people, there’s an inkling of distrust, a waiting to be disappointed, a preparedness to distance ourselves from those who prove to be against us. Because it has happened time and time again, while navigating white spaces.

I was The Black Best Friend. I was the body they pointed to when they claimed to not be racist. I was the extra in my own movie. I was the one they called last, often the one they left out, the name tacked on at the end—an afterthought. I was a pet, a secretary, an experiment. So, it’s difficult to trust new white friends. Even after months of cordial meetings, even after we’ve laughed together and gone out together, because new white friends can switch up at the drop of a hat, and suddenly decide to feel differently about Black people. They have that choice. They can choose to care.

Quinn Jackson, of my debut novel Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry, has a painful snap back into reality when she watches her best friends degrade her humanity. She’s so jarred by the experience that she silences herself, refusing to explain to her white friends why she no longer wants to be around them. This is the kind of jarring experience that births distrust—not only for white people as a whole, but for her white friends, individually.

Recently, I spoke with an amazing, talented individual about how I chose to end my book, and it really made me think about who deserves to be forgiven. So, despite how Quinn decides to handle her situation, it is not her responsibility to soothe white guilt, educate white people of their privilege, or to learn to trust them again. It’s her responsibility, my responsibility, and your responsibility to not allow the disappointment to continuously cause pain and to rise against it by seeking joy.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Forrest Red

Joya Goffney grew up in New Waverly, a small town in East Texas. In high school, she challenged herself with to-do lists full of risk-taking items like ‘hug a random boy’ and ‘eat a cricket,’ which inspired her debut novel, Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry. With a passion for Black social psychology, she moved out of the countryside to attend the University of Texas in Austin, where she still resides. Learn more at https://www.joyagoffney.com and follow along on Twitter @Joya_Goffney and Instagram @Joya.Goffney.

Author Molly E. Lee on “The Creative Spark”, a guest post

“We have a new assignment today,” my second grade teacher says as she plunges her hands into a giant cardboard box on her desk. I’m practically falling out of my seat to see what she will pull out. “I want you all to take out your notebooks and think of a story you’d like to tell.” She heaves a dozen little hardback books out of the box. The covers are blank white, the spines thin. She sets another stack next to the first one and then discards the empty box.

            For the next ten minutes she continues with instructions—you need a main character, a setting, a problem and a solution. A few of the students next to me groan, their heads slumping as they doodle in their practice notebooks instead of writing.

            I don’t understand their groans at the new assignment because I can barely sit still with how excited I am. Finally, a piece of schoolwork that somehow feels tailored for me specifically. I love to read. I re-read my favorite stories every night, and now my teacher is asking me to write my very own?

            It takes me two days to jot down my characters and problems and setting.

            It takes all of us two weeks to practice writing the sentences neatly in our notebooks as well as practice drawing the pictures that will go with the words.

            And at the end of the two weeks? My teacher gives me my very own blank hardback book. I crack it open and feel something rise in my chest—a feeling I can’t explain at the age of seven but will figure out later. It’s a big feeling that makes my hands shake as I carefully, delicately place each word, each sentence on those blank pages. It’s a feeling that has me drawing my brows together as I craft the pictures to match my scenes. It’s a feeling that will stay with me as I read the book aloud to an audience of parents and students later that week. And it’s a feeling that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

            Now, decades later, I have a name for that big feeling.

            The creative spark.

            Since my second grade teacher gave me that fateful assignment all those years ago, the creative spark has stayed with me, shaping who I am today. Many have—and will likely continue—to try and smother it out of me.

I’ll never forget the day my high school guidance counselor grimaced when I told her my career aspirations of becoming an author. She shook her head, strongly advising me to look into the physical therapy or nursing field because they were actual careers. She went on to say I’d never be able to make a living at being an author and suggested I rethink my plans.

It wasn’t the first time I’d heard the response to my dreams—I’d made up my mind that day in second grade what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I told anyone and everyone who asked me from then on out. “I’m going to be an author,” I’d say with confidence, my chin held high. The answer was often met with laughs and nods and we’ll sees.

Luckily for me, my parents never laughed. They never rolled their eyes or groaned when I had a new story for them to read. They told me if I wanted to be an author, then I would be, but I’d have to work hard for it.

They weren’t wrong. Having the creative spark—that urge to write and create and shape worlds and characters into existence—isn’t the only thing I needed on my journey to become an author. It certainly helps—that fire constantly burning inside me, that excitement at the prospect of a blank page, the jolt of awareness and delight when a new character pops into my head and starts whispering their story to me. Sometimes that spark is the only thing that can hold my heart together after a story is rejected or met with a negative review. That spark is the only thing that picks up those aching pieces and firmly demands, “Keep writing. Keep trying. Keep creating.”           

Over the years I learned to understand the pure subjective aspects of the business, how one person can love what another hates and vice versa. I’ve learned to appreciate and depend on honest critiques from trusted peers and professionals. I’ve learned to stay humble and to never stop working on my craft, to never settle with what I know now and always strive to learn more. I’ve learned that sometimes a manuscript needs to sit for years before it is ready for the world.

But one thing that has never changed, one thing that has never let me down, is that same creative spark instilled within me in second grade. That same big feeling I often was laughed at for growing up. I never stopped feeding that spark, never stopped listening to its encouragement, never stopped working toward the dream that took hold of me and never let go.

Now, all these years later, as I wake up each morning to work on a manuscript, I still feel as excited as that seven-year-old girl. Eager and beaming at the chance to dive into new worlds with the simplicity of jotting down an idea in a notebook or striking a few letters on the keyboard. I’m beyond lucky I get to live my dream, beyond lucky I have amazing readers who are just as excited to read as I am to write. And I owe it all to that big feeling that has never left my side, never let the negativity or the difficulty smother it, that beautiful, universal, joyous thing I call the creative spark.

About Ember of Night:

I am a weed.

Unloved by my abusive, alcoholic dad. Unwanted by my classmates. Unnoticed by everyone else.

But I’d suffer anything to give my kid sister a better life—the minute I turn eighteen, I’m getting us the hell out of here. And some hot stranger telling me I am the key to stopping a war between Heaven and Hell isn’t going to change that.

Let the world crumble and burn, for all I care.

Draven is relentless, though. And very much a liar. Every time his sexy lips are moving, I can see it—in the dip of his head, the grit of his jaw—even if my heart begs me to ignore the signs.

So what does he want?

I need to figure it out fast, because now everyone is gunning for me. And damn if I don’t want to show them what happens when you let weeds thrive in the cracks of the pavement…

We can grow powerful enough to shatter the whole foundation.

May 4th 2021 by Entangled: Teen (ISBN13: 9781649370310)

About Molly E. Lee:

Molly E. Lee is an author best known for her romance novels, the Grad Night series and the Love on the Edge series. Molly writes Adult and Young Adult contemporary featuring strong female heroines who are unafraid to challenge their male counterparts, yet still vulnerable enough to have love sneak up on them. In addition to being a military spouse and mother of two + one stubborn English Bulldog, Molly loves watching storms from her back porch at her Midwest home, and digging for treasures in antique stores.

Perfectly Imperfect, a guest post by Corey Ann Haydu

The Case for Imperfect Characters with Imperfect Feelings for Our Youngest Readers

I have always written imperfect characters with imperfect feelings in my young adult and middle grade novels. It came naturally, mostly because I kept journals in my own middle grade and young adult years, and was able to see first-hand just how complicated and tricky and not-so-nice so many of my feelings were. How not-so-nice, I was, at times. It was easy, to understand imperfection from that angle. Knowing myself rather well, I know I am not a terrible person. But I had evidence of some very hard-to-understand feelings I had about my friends and family and, perhaps most of all, myself. Imperfection is about those dueling truths: we are kind and good people, existing in the world, but the world is messy, so we also have messy feelings to go along with our kindness and goodness. Kindness and goodness are not the same as perfection. 

Still, somehow, when I started writing chapter books for a slightly younger audience, younger than my journals went, I balked at the idea that I could write similarly imperfect characters for those younger ages. Weren’t books meant to show young readers how to live in the world? Weren’t characters in books meant to be examples? Didn’t my books for younger readers have to be perfectly nice and perfectly good and perfectly kind?

What I forgot, of course, is that even if these books were meant to show something about what it is to live in the world as a kid, it wouldn’t be much help to show a perfect existence filled with nice and easy feelings. That wouldn’t tell a kid much about how to be. Or rather, it might tell them how to be, but it would set them up for failure. I speak from experience when I say that aiming for perfection is a great way to feel awful about yourself. And I do not want my books to make kids feel awful. I want my books to make kids feel seen. I also want my books to make them laugh. And cringe. And scream at the characters NO DON’T DO THAT. And wonder. And relate. And not relate, but try to understand anyway. 

In my HAND ME DOWN MAGIC series, my characters, best-friend-cousins Alma and Del feel feelings that we have been told over and over are bad. Jealousy. Fear. Loneliness. Anger. And in illustrator Luisa Uribe’s emotionally vibrant illustrations, these emotions are right there on the surface, unhidden, fraught, earnest, plaintive. Undeniably, deeply there. On the front of the cover of book three in the series, PERFECT PATCHWORK PURSE, three girls are featured. In the middle, Cassie hugs a unique patchwork purse to her chest. On one side of her, exuberant Del celebrates Cassie’s acquisition. And on the other side there is Alma. She is bereft. She is clasping her hands and frowning and leaning towards the bag with a heartbreaking longing. 

I guess it would be quite evolved for Alma to simply celebrate her friend having a cool new accessory. But it wouldn’t be authentic. At least not of the life I know, where sometimes we feel something imperfect that we wish we weren’t feeling. And I want my characters to be authentic. Not just because it’s easier to write. And certainly more fun to write. But also because if I want kids to “learn” anything from my books, I want them to learn that it’s okay to feel those feelings. I want them to learn they don’t have to hide them away or beat themselves up for having them, or try to convince the world they don’t ever get them. I want them to know that I feel those feelings too. That Alma is not alone, and neither are they. 

Sometimes, we are Del, celebrating our friends’ victories. That’s wonderful. But sometimes we are Alma, wishing those victories were our own.  And that’s okay too. Maybe even a little bit wonderful. Because it means we are alive, we are feeling, we are vulnerable and open and letting the world matter to us. Being imperfect, actually, is code for being engaged in the world around us. Being imperfect means we care. It means being full-hearted. Being imperfect means being whole. 

When I look at that illustration of Alma, I don’t feel bad for her. I feel seen. I say to myself—oh, yep, that’s how it feels sometimes. I hope my books provide that for young readers (and readers of all ages!) I hope they take what feels messy and bad and uncomfortable and wrong and make it look okay. Expected. Part of the whole being human thing. Recognizable and relatable and not so scary after all. 

I’m still working, on not needing to be perfect. It’s hard, to give up on that impossible dream. But writing Alma and Del and their messy, imperfect, big, tricky feelings helps show me the way. If I can love Alma and her sulking or Del and her fear or both girls when they have a messy fight, maybe I can love myself through sulking and fear and fighting too. And hopefully, hopefully, so can young readers. 

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Corey Ann Haydu is the author of the Hand-Me-Down Magic series, EventownThe Someday Suitcase, and Rules for Stealing Stars and four acclaimed books for teens. She grew up in the Boston area, earned her MFA at the New School, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her dog Oscar. Find out more at www.coreyannhaydu.com

The Reality of Unrealistic, a guest post by Emery Lee

“The Hulk is a giant green monster that sprouts out of this scientist when he gets angry, but the really messy part of this movie is the military uniforms. Look at them. They’re just not realistic!”

I’ll never forget that writing class I took back in college, but it wasn’t just because the professor had an amazing sense of humor and actually took the time to explain writing as a career. What resounds through my head to this day was the moment when she covered the “willing suspension of disbelief,” and all that that entailed.

We don’t pick up fiction because we want everything to be perfectly realistic. We pick it up for green monsters that destroy towns when a person gets angry and lovers who find each other despite not speaking in twenty years and dystopian governments that reduce every person to a career type. That is, we pick up fiction to see the deeper parts of reality cast back at us in a way that we know we’ll never really see in real life. It’s reality through a thin layer of film, through a filter that gives us just enough distance to make us comfortable.

I’ve often heard, “Sometimes fiction has to be more believable than reality.” That things happen all the time in real life that we’d never allow in fiction, things that are just a little too uncanny or corny or coincidental. Despite these occurrences being real, we as readers see them and think, “But would that ever really happen?” and refuse to suspend disbelief for them.

But when it comes to suspending disbelief, who gets the benefit of the doubt and who doesn’t? Why is marrying your first love realistic but running into someone you only know from the internet too convenient? Why is it realistic for a teenager to save the world from the apocalypse but too difficult to believe they might save a peer from bullies without any ulterior motive? Why is a green monster that destroys cities more believable than a military uniform with too many patches?

The more I questioned what people suspend disbelief for, the more I realized that there isn’t an answer. Why is a green monster that destroys cities more believable than a military uniform with too many patches? Well, simply put, it’s not. At least not for me. Maybe if I knew more about military uniforms and the significance of patches and exactly how likely it might be for a scientist to turn into a giant green monster, but being a writer with no military background who never took a science class voluntarily, one of these things definitely feels unrealistic to me, and no, it’s not that shoddily designed uniform.

We suspend disbelief all the time for things we know nothing about, but when it comes to things we think we know, that point of logic in the back of our heads flares up like a red light screaming “THAT’S NOT REALISTIC”. But how much do we know, and how much do we think we know?

Is it realistic for an Asian family to wear shoes inside the house? Is it realistic for an entire friend group to all be queer? Is it realistic for someone to have only dated trans people? To only have neurodivergent friends? To live in a Latinx-majority town in the deep South?

As an author who writes a lot of stories from my own experiences, I find most of the “that’s not realistic” comments I receive aren’t on the things I’ve taken creative liberty on. They’re from the things that draw directly from my experiences of navigating the world, making friends, mixing languages, navigating the internet.

So the question becomes, is this real thing that happened to me unrealistic or is it just something that the reader has no understanding of and therefore doesn’t know how to believe?

The way I read and write has transformed a lot since I first started branching out of my comfort zone with the authors that I pick up. The more diverse books I’ve read, the more I’ve come to realize that the way I see the world is just one way of seeing it. My way is no more real or insightful than any other. It’s simply that. My way.

And this has changed the way I talk about books and recommend books as well. Is a book “realistic”? Is it “relatable”? Is it more or less “authentic” based on my judgment of the book? Or is it a story that simply rings true for me, one that reflects my experience? One that reflects the way I see reality? I no longer use “relatable” or “authentic” as synonyms for “good”. I no longer consider them goals or even attainable. The fact of the matter is that anything that’s relatable is inherently not relatable to someone else. There is no universally relatable experience.

And so there is no universally relatable story. Especially within children’s fiction, it’s important that a wide range of experiences are being shared with all sorts of readers. Not just what’s “realistic” or “believable” to me or even what may seem “universally believable” based on what I know of the world, but all the marginalized or niche experiences of reality as well. Even if most people don’t understand the world the way I see it, that doesn’t mean my story doesn’t deserve to be told. That doesn’t mean that my reality isn’t real.

There is no such thing as an unrealistic reality, just a reality that some people are unwilling to accept.

And so it may be true that fiction is oftentimes more believable than reality, but that is in and of itself a show of how much we’ve failed to push the boundaries of fiction. If fiction can reflect mermaids and aliens and enemies who fall in love while trying to kill each other, it can also show teens that their reality exists, no matter how many people may try to insist it doesn’t. After all, fiction is the one place where literally anything is possible. If it tells teens that their own experiences are too unrealistic to put on paper, well, I think it’s about time we changed that.

Meet the author

Emery Lee is a kidlit author, artist, and YouTuber hailing from a mixed-racial background. After graduating with a degree in creative writing, e’s gone on to author novels, short stories, and webcomics. When away from reading and writing, you’ll most likely find em engaged in art or snuggling cute dogs.

Website: https://www.emeryleebooks.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/EmeryLeeWho

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/emeryleebooks/

About Meet Cute Diary

Felix Ever After meets Becky Albertalli in this swoon-worthy, heartfelt rom-com about how a transgender teen’s first love challenges his ideas about perfect relationships.

Noah Ramirez thinks he’s an expert on romance. He has to be for his popular blog, the Meet Cute Diary, a collection of trans happily ever afters. There’s just one problem—all the stories are fake. What started as the fantasies of a trans boy afraid to step out of the closet has grown into a beacon of hope for trans readers across the globe.

When a troll exposes the blog as fiction, Noah’s world unravels. The only way to save the Diary is to convince everyone that the stories are true, but he doesn’t have any proof. Then Drew walks into Noah’s life, and the pieces fall into place: Drew is willing to fake-date Noah to save the Diary. But when Noah’s feelings grow beyond their staged romance, he realizes that dating in real life isn’t quite the same as finding love on the page.

In this charming novel by Emery Lee, Noah will have to choose between following his own rules for love or discovering that the most romantic endings are the ones that go off script.

ISBN-13: 9780063038837
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/04/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years