Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Take 5: I’m in a Bad Romance, books about abusive relationships

February is not just about romance, it is also a month dedicated to raising awareness about teen dating violence.  One study indicated that 25% of 8th and 9th graders reported that they had been victims of dating violence.  Here are some YA lit titles on the topic to help raise awareness and start discussions.

Bitter End by Jennifer Brown

Publisher’s Annotation: When Alex falls for the charming new boy at school, Cole — a handsome, funny, sports star who adores her — she can’t believe she’s finally found her soul mate . . . someone who truly loves and understands her.

At first, Alex is blissfully happy. Sure, Cole seems a little jealous of her relationship with her close friend Zack, but what guy would want his girlfriend spending all her time with another boy? As the months pass, though, Alex can no longer ignore Cole’s small put-downs, pinches, or increasingly violent threats.

As Alex struggles to come to terms with the sweet boyfriend she fell in love with and the boyfriend whose “love” she no longer recognizes, she is forced to choose — between her “true love” and herself.

Karen’s note: I don’t think you can ever go wrong with Jennifer Brown when it comes to thoughtful contemporary fiction that makes you think about current issues, and this is no exception. 

Dreamland by Sarah Dessen

Publisher’s Annotation: Wake up, Caitlin

Ever since she started going out with Rogerson Biscoe, Caitlin seems to have fallen into a semiconscious dreamland where nothing is quite real. Rogerson is different from anyone Caitlin has ever known. He’s magnetic. He’s compelling. He’s dangerous. Being with him makes Caitlin forget about everything else–her missing sister, her withdrawn mother, her lackluster life. But what happens when being with Rogerson becomes a larger problem than being without him?

Karen’s Thoughts: I am a huge fan of Sarah Dessen and this was the first book by her I read.  It is so well done.  I recently heard Dessen speak and she said that she has received mail from teen readers saying that they wished that she had kept Rogerson and Caitlin together, which is of course disturbing. 

Breathing Underwater by Alex Flinn

Publisher’s Annotation: Like father, like son.

Intelligent, popular, handsome, and wealthy, sixteen-year-old Nick Andreas is pretty much perfect — on the outside, at least. What no one knows — not even his best friend — is the terror that Nick faces every time he is alone with his father. Then he and Caitlin fall in love, and Nick thinks his problems are over. Caitlin is the one person who he can confide in. But when things start to spiral out of control, Nick must face the fact that he’s gotten more from his father than green eyes and money.

Karen’s note: This book is not an easy read, but it is an important one.  It really captures the emotions involved in the issues.

Rage: A Love Story by Julie Ann Peters

Publisher’s Annotation: Johanna is steadfast, patient, reliable; the go-to girl, the one everyone can count on. But always being there for others can’t give Johanna everything she needs—it can’t give her Reeve Hartt.

Reeve is fierce, beautiful, wounded, elusive; a flame that draws Johanna’s fluttering moth. Johanna is determined to get her, against all advice, and to help her, against all reason. But love isn’t always reasonable, right?

In the precarious place where attraction and need collide, a teenager experiences the dark side of a first love, and struggles to find her way into a new light 

Karen’s notes: Unfortunately, this is not a title I have read yet, but it appeared on a lot of recommended lists so I am including it.

Falling for You by Lisa Schroeder

Publisher’s Annotation: Rae’s always dreamed of dating a guy like Nathan. He’s nothing like her abusive stepfather—in other words, he’s sweet. But the closer they get, the more Nathan wants of her time, of her love, of her…and the less she wants to give.

As Rae’s affection for Nathan turns to fear, she leans on her friend Leo for support. With Leo, she feels lighter, happier. And possessive Nathan becomes jealous.

Then a tragedy lands Rae in the ICU. Now, hovering between life and death, Rae must find the light amid the darkness…and the strength to fight for life and the love she deserves.

Karen’s notes: You can read my review here

Have more titles to add to our list?  Please leave a comment.  We love book recommendations!

I’m In a Bad Romance: Building a display with ya lit about abusive relationships, a guest post by Cindy

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

In February 2013, I put together a books display called Bad Romance. It was a play on the Lady Gaga song. I wanted to exhibit books that had abusive or unhealthy relationships. I also wanted to put out information for teens that were in these kinds of relationships. The books focused on physical and emotionally abusive relationships and also included books about stalking and kidnapping.

Nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year.

My “go to” book about abusive relationships is always Dreamland by Sarah Dessen. I read it when I was in high school and it was really powerful. I could feel the pain Caitlinwas in and still remember wanting to help her. 

Other titles that have abusive relationships include Stay by Deb Caletti, Rage: A Love Story by Julie Anne Peters, Breathing Underwater by Alex Flinn, Bitter End by Jennifer Brown, Don’t Breathe a Word by Holly Cupala, and But I Love Him by Amanda Grace. 
I did also include books such as Stolen by Lucy Christopher about stalking and kidnapping and Twilightas well because of the stalking elements in the book.

One in three adolescents in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner, a figure that far exceeds rates of other types of youth violence.
This display was very popular and most of the books showcased were checked out.

One in 10 high school students has been purposefully hit, slapped or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend.
To help teens involved in abusive relationships, I included the phone number for the Domestic Abuse Hotline. Also, included in the display were some of our nonfiction collection books dealing with abusive relationships that gave suggestions on how to get out of an unhealthy relationship.

Cindy Shutts is the Teen Services Librarian at the White Oak Library District in IL. You can follow her on Twitter at .

For Those Who Watch American Horror Story, Don’t Call it Incest. It is abuse.

Please note: The following conversation will contain spoilers for American Horror Story.  Consider yourself warned.  Also, this is a very sensitive discussion so there may be trigger warnings.  Click to continue.

I broke up with American Horror Story in the first season.  It is, in fact, too much for me.  But I find the main actress, Taissa Farminga, to be incredibly compelling, as is her counterpart, Evan Peters.  So last season, I avoided watching it entirely and just read the recaps the next morning.  It felt safer.

This year I thought I would give it another try, partly because it always debuts at the right time of year and you know, it’s Halloween, of course there should be witches.

In the season premiere, there was a very disturbing scene in which one of the witches, played by Emma Roberts, is gang raped by a multitude of frat boys at a party.  She is drugged, and they each rape her, one after another.  It was so disturbing to watch, I changed the channel and once again swore of the show.  The thing is, they made it very clear that it was rape.  There was no question.  And this portrayal, deeply disturbing to watch, did what it was supposed to do – it showed the violence and horror that is rape.

Jump forward to last night.  Evan Peters character has been brought back to life in a version of Frankenstein with a resurrection spell.  And he returns home where he is sexually abused by his mother.  There were several things that seemed very clear in the way the scene was shot:

1.  This abuse had been going on for a while, probably since he was a younger child.  Perhaps when he was 4 as alluded to in the conversation with his mother.

2.  The incident was so damaging to him.  When Peters turns his head to the side and begins to cry, the affects of this abuse are so poignantly demonstrated.  Although it was horrific to watch, Peters did victims everywhere honor with his poignant portrayal; I really felt he helped those watching to understand how incredibly horrific abuse is.

And yet, a curious thing happened.  Last night on the message boards people were talking about the “incest scene” on AHS.  DO NOT CALL THIS INCEST.  This is straight up sexual abuse and it is a violence perpetrated by one individual against another.  This is not a boy in love with his mother,  this is a boy being abused by his mother.  Violated.  It is an act of violence against him.

Incest is what we read in Flowers in the Attic by V. C. Andrews, where family members closely related fall in love with each other.  They both tend to be willing participants.  If either participant is unwilling, non consenting, it is straight up abuse.  It is a violence done to them.

So why were they calling it incest?  Perhaps it is because we often don’t believe that a woman can sexually abuse a man.  But they can and it happens.  1 in 5 boys are victims of some type of sexual violence by the time they reach the age 18.  Although a majority of these crimes are done by men, upwards of 90%, women can and do abuse (more stats here). This cultural denial we perpetuate is the reason why people like Chris Brown will boast about losing his virginity at the age of 8 instead of recognizing that he was raped by his 15 year old babysitter.  It is part of the reason why young boys who “fall in love” with their female teachers and have sexual relations are patted on the back while male teachers who do the same with teenage girls are sent to prison.  It is part of the reason why broken and violated young men don’t come forward and get the help that they need.

Boys can be and are sexually abused.  Sometimes by women.  We must call it what it is.  What happened last night in American Horror Story wasn’t incest, and we harm victims everywhere when we mislabel the violence they suffer.  By giving the right words to the crime, me dis-empower those who would commit these acts and we empower the victims to break their silence and come forward.  Words have meaning, and using the right words is powerful.  Don’t call it incest – it was abuse.

Another case where it is called Incest when it is not: Flawed by Kate Avelynn

Friday Finds – July 12, 2013

This Week at TLT:

Taking teen patrons to a conference and SURVIVING – read about Heather’s tips and learn from her experience.

Christie and Karen each give their ALA 2013 highlights (they stalked a lot of awesome authors!)

Read up on the Free Comic Book Day panel Karen and Christie took part in at ALA 2013. Learn Christie’s new catchphrase!

Catch up with Part 2 of Robin’s series on How to Tumblr.

Christie gives us a peek at some this Fall’s most anticipated new titles.

A book review leads to Karen’s committment to call out unhealthy relationships portrayed as ideal in YA.

The Neptune Project gets the Teen Program in a Box treatment by the author herself! Find out more about Polly Holyoke.

Previously on TLT:

Because No Always Means No: a list of titles dealing with rape and sexual harassment.

Around the Web:

There’s been a lot of discussion in the Twitterverse this week on the inclusion of violence in Young Adult literature. For context, read this Storify of Patrick Ness’ initial comments.

And here is the article to which he refers.

And a previous list of books Patrick Ness recommends that many people believe are ‘unsuitable’ for teens.

Sunday Reflections: “There is no plan.”

On December 14th of last year, I sat in my library’s meeting room for a scheduled staff inservice on safety and security.  The police officer held a question/answer session, fielding library staff questions one by one.  The answer was almost always, “Call the police.  We’re the experts.  Let us decide.  Keep yourself safe.  Don’t worry if it’s a false alarm. Call the police.”

I work in a small town.  It’s very nice.  Quaint.  People frequently ride their bikes to the library, which is near the heart of town, and leave them unlocked outside, propped against the book drop.  It’s the kind of place that feels very safe.

On the other side of the country, in another quaint town that felt very safe, while we sat in the meeting room eating coffee cake from the local bakery, listening to the officer answer our questions, and looking forward to an early end of the day, Sandy Hook Elementary School was making national news in the worst possible way.

In the time since the Newtown, CT school shooting, I’ve been a part of a committee creating security plans and procedures for my library, and this past Friday, we all met back in that same meeting room again, this time to introduce the new security plan, and to be a part of an active shooter drill conducted by the local police department.

The procedure we were advised to use in the case of an active shooter is very brief.  It doesn’t include many specifics.  The main message is to make your best judgement and keep yourself as safe as you can, whether by hiding or escaping, notifying others if you can, but keeping yourself safe above all else.

The officer who ran the drill gave us one instruction:
This will feel very real.  Do what you would do if this were real.

Of course the questions followed.
“Should we sound an alarm?”
“Do we make an announcement on the intercom?”
“What if we can’t hear it happening?”
“What if we were with children, or in a program with teens?”  
“What if I’m near the exit but there are kids closer to where the shooter is?”

He repeated, “Do what you would do if this were real.”

I won’t lie.  It was terrifying.  It’s not that I felt that my safety was at risk – I understood intellectually that the shots fired were not harmful and that though they were loud, I wouldn’t be hurt.  But the mere fact that we were drilling for this left my stomach churning and my heart racing.  A situation as unimaginable yet as increasingly common as this has another layer of emotion for those of us who work with young people.

Who among us wouldn’t be torn about how best to evacuate or notify the teens in our building?  What is the difference between our motivations, roles, and responsibilities as individuals with hopes and dreams and loved ones of our own, as youth-serving professionals, and as good humans?

It’s heart wrenching and sobering to contemplate.  We are people hoping teens will come to us.  We hope we can earn and then keep their trust.  We craft our collections, programs, and spaces to make them feel comforted and welcome.  We care about them.  So when the answer to our questions was, “You’ll need to decide.  Do what you would do if this were real,” and the officer reminded us that we are all college educated adults and need to use our best judgement when faced with difficult decisions about life and death, escape and refuge, safety and heroism, it was hard to hear.

I wanted a rule, a procedure, a plan.  But there is no plan.  There is only a situation and our best judgement.  Unlike the officer’s reminder in December, that they are the experts, that we need not decide how best to deal with a potentially volatile situation, once the situation has flipped and the situation is volatile, it is up to each of us to act, using our own best judgement.

We can know where all of the exits and safest rooms are.  We can tuck hammers and fire ladders near high windows.  We can put panic buttons in easy to reach places.  But we can’t make our libraries 100% secure.  As the officer sagely pointed out, that’s not a place of learning and engagement; that’s a jail.

Before we adjourned for the day, a coworker with a son in middle school spoke up.  She pointed out that while we all are concerned with keeping children and teens safe, and those of us who work with them specifically may feel an additional layer of professional responsibility to do so, teens and children are being equipped with their own set of survival skills.  Unlike most of us adults who drilled in school for fire and weather emergencies, today’s youth are also drilling for the devastating possibility of a shooter.  And just as we carry the lessons of our early drills with us everywhere, “duck and cover” “stop, drop, and roll” “stay low and go,” so will today’s youth carry the tools of our modern situation with them.

We hope they never need to use those tools.  We hope we never need to make these life and death decisions.

How does your role as a youth services professional change your perspective on emergency response?  Does your library have an emergency response plan?


Book Review: Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick (SPOILERS)

Spoiler Alert: Please note, given the sensitive nature of this book, this review contains spoilers.  You have been warned.
Short, non-spoilery review: This is an excellently written book about a young man struggling with emotional issues and the day he sets out to kill Asher Beal and then himself.  Raw, powerful, stunning and a shining example of the literary YA novelObviously it contains mature content (and refers to a topic not often addressed in YA lit) and language. 4.5 out of 5 stars (minus half a star for concerns about the ending)
Opening Scene: 
“The P-38 WWII Nazi handgun looks comical lying on the breakfast table next to a bowl of oatmeal.  It’s like some weird steampunk utenisil anachronism.  But if you look very closely just above the handle, you can see the tiny stamped swastika and the eagle perched on top, which is real as hell.
     I take a photo of my place setting with my iPhone, thinking it cold be both evidence and modern art. . . .
    The art and naswer worlds will love it, I bet.
     Especially after I actually kill Asher Beal and off myself.” – pages 1-2
When we first meet Leonard Peacock, it is his birthday.  The day he is going to kill Asher Beal and then commit suicide.  It is the day he visits the only 4 people in the world that matter to him and gives them a single present before he commits this horrible act.  It is the day that changes everything.

The Long Spoilery Review
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is an excellently written book.  An extremeley uncomfortable read, but amazing writing and insight.  In fact, there are parts where Leonard talks about dressing up and following adults around to see if he can find just one happy adult that will take your breath away; the insight of this teenage boy and the amazing way Quick presents it are so deep and profound, you will take a moment to think about your own life.  Before I talk about the book itself, I just want to say: the writing in this book is just amazing.  Award winning, razor cutting, amazing.
As a character, Leonard is interesting because you should obviously not like him.  I mean, he is about to go and kill someone.  But he is heartbreaking and you know that horrible things have happened to him.  In fact – and again, HUGE SPOILER ALERT – I don’t think readers are very surprised to learn that Asher Beal has raped Leonard Peacock.  And as horrific and heartbreaking as it all is in this book, I am glad that Quick wrote this story because there is not a lot of ya lit out there about male rape, and those victims need to have books to turn to in their own time of need.
Leonard Peacock is a book about sexual violence, but it does not include sexual violence as  a way to shock or entice readers. (For more on this topic, read Maggie Steifvater’s post on Literary Rape.)  No, here we have a tale that is very much about the damage that is wrought in the life of its victims, and there is more than one victim.  It brings up meaningful discussion about how our actions can negatively impact others and it effectively portrays just the visceral shattering of this boy, Leonard, who was already on shaky ground to begin with (he has the WORST mother ever present in ya lit. Just absolutely the worst.)
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is full of little oddities: It has sarcastic footnotes throughout the text, letters appear throughout as a future Leonard writes to present day Leonard.  When reading Leonard Peacock you will be reminded of writers like A. S. King (who apparently is my benchmark for awesome, gritty, cutting edge realistic teen fiction).  But these quirky elements really add to the power of it.
Which brings me to what I consider to be a huge note of CAUTION about this book!!! And again, spoiler alert: the ending.  Leonard is saved, in a way, by his favorite teacher (Herr), one of the 4 gift recipients.  He breaks all kinds of rules and takes Leonard home and tells him that yes, high school sucks, but if he just keeps working at it he will survive and be okay.  And then Leonard goes home and his mom never really appears to embrace the fact that Leonard is really and truly messed up and needs help.  Some people will disagree, but I just worry that the end message ends up being “hold on, it will get better” when there needed to be a real statement of “horrible things have happened to you and you are struggling and let’s get you some professional help.”  Even an end note to this affect would be good.  Also, I feel that there would be incredible legal ramifications for Herr who had this knowledge and didn’t report it, especially in light of Aurora and Newtown.  Herr is an excellent teacher and character, and I worry that he is not making the right decision here for either of them.
Look, I understand that the author’s responsibility is ultimately to the story and not the reader, but this is such a sensitive subject and teen readers, especially those who are struggling with these issues already, are so young, I just feel like we have a responsibility to make sure teen readers get the best and most correct information.  What I read was an ARC of the book (borrowed from a friend), so I hope when it is published in August of this year there will be some good endnotes and organizations to contact for help.  But even if there aren’t, I can’t deny that this is an excellently written, powerful, and important book.  
Of course the other hot topic issue is that of teenage violence and violence in the schools.  This is a fascinating look at what leads one boy to contemplate this path, and of the people in his life who both bring him to it and might help him step off it.  Not only should teens read this book, but everyone who works with or parents a teen should read it.

RAINN is dedicated to helping victims of sexual violence in their healing journey 

Edited to add a Link to this Goodreads review by Laura: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/517205211

She says: “The build-up here is slow, and we really get a sense of how smart Leonard is, how he’s not afraid to be different (or think different) than his peers, and how lonely he is and desperate to see something – anything – good in life.”  This is spot on and I love how eloquently and fiercely that desperation is portrayed.

She says: “I’m not so fond of the Letters from the Future, however, and Herr Silvermann was (at times) too much of the Good Teacher Who Cares, hence the rating issue.” I also was not fond of the letters from the future but got that they were another attempt by Leonard to try and convince himself that the future held promise.  The first time you read one of the letters, however, is very jarring.
Forgve Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick.  Published by Little, Brown in August of 2013.  ISBN: 978-0-316-22133-7