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#MHYALit: The Fantasy of Being Thin and YA Lit, a guest post by Katelyn Browne

Last week, we had several conversations about the book Kill the Boy Band and body shaming. You can read post 1 and post 2 for background. In the midst of all these online conversations, Katelyn Browne contacted me and said I want to write a post about “the fantasy of being thin”. Today, we are honored to present that post to you.

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I don’t think I’m alone when I say that Kate Harding changed my life. She continues to do good work as a feminist writer–I was on the Amelia Bloomer List committee that recognized her book about rape culture, Asking for It–but for me, it was Shapely Prose (RIP) that forever altered my understanding of myself and my ability to exist in the world.

In 2007, a post called The Fantasy of Being Thin (aka TFoBT) spelled out a cultural mythology I’d never been able to name or claim. In short, it describes the magical thinking that associates weight loss and/or thinness with character development. The list of examples ranges from “When I’m thin, I’ll be really extroverted and charismatic, and thus have more friends than I know what to do with” to “When I’m thin, I won’t be depressed anymore.”

Kate’s initial post about TFoBT served to explain why, in part, it’s so hard for many people to fully convert to fat acceptance for themselves, even after they’ve come around theoretically on fat acceptance for others. But today, I want to talk about the ways in which TFoBT is such a perfect, pernicious trope to hang a YA novel on.

TFoBT squares so completely with dominant American cultural values that it’s almost invisible. Of course weight is an issue of character and morality. Of course thin people take better care of their bodies than fat people, so of course they’re more morally sound. Of course anyone could be thin if they had enough self-discipline, and of course all fat people are binge eaters who don’t understand nutrition. Of course fat bodies are hilarious and desexualized, and no worthy partner would be attracted to a fat person.

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YA fiction is, by its nature, about the adolescent development process of taking ownership for your own life, taking responsibility for your own decisions, and building the relationships that will carry you into adulthood. Because we’re conditioned to view thinness as a visible indicator of invisible virtue (self-discipline, self-esteem, self-care, a right relationship with food and exercise, and enough class markers to fill their own essay), it makes “sense” that weight loss is an appropriate outward journey to signify that internal character development.

Recently, we saw this in Sarah Dessen’s Saint Anything: Mac’s secret backstory is a weight-loss plotline that signifies his journey to seeing value in his own life, while simultaneously making him worthy of romantic love. (Sarah Dessen has a long and complicated track record with weight-loss tropes; Keeping the Moon, which has long been my favourite of her books, has a more complicated version of this same ideal going on as Colie struggles to inhabit her post-weight-loss body.)

For girls, it so often dovetails with the other obvious moral “truth” of YA media: that girls who care too much about their looks are vain, but girls who are good are naturally beautiful. We see this intersection in books like Fat Cat by Robin Brande, where Cat’s paleo-esque diet is motivated by science and vague notions of health; becoming thin and popular and loved happens as a side effect.

We see it in middle-grade books like Shelley Sackier’s Dear Opl, where weight is an indicator of mental health, and both are throughly rolled in with physical health.

We see it in Jen Larsen’s Future Perfect. Ashley gets non-specified weight-loss surgery because her grandmother bribes her to–she’s too good to care about her appearance, but the pursuit of her education comes with a magical opportunity to stop being fat.

And speaking of magical opportunities, my thirteen-year-old self read a paperback series book called Stranger in the Mirror about a gajillion times; its main character wishes on a magical meteorite that she can be as thin and beautiful as her sister, whose boyfriend she’s in love with. Instead of magical insta-weight loss, she wakes up with a sudden love of running, and the sense of self-discipline she gains from running wins her a romantic interest. (Stranger in the Mirror was co-written by Cherie Bennett; you may remember Bennett’s Life in the Fat Lane, about a beauty queen who has a metabolic disorder that causes her to gain weight for exactly as long as it takes to learn a Serious Moral Lesson about appearance, at which point she’s able to start losing it all again.)

Maybe it’s just a little thing. Maybe you feel like this book that uses a character’s weight to mirror their moral development is different, or is a subversion, or really deserves it. And this is somewhere that I think deeply about Karen’s recent post about the way trope-weary adults read books, versus teens who don’t have decades of mimetic knowledge piled on their shoulders. When I was thirteen, these books didn’t make me angry. They filled me with hope, with the false knowledge that once I grew up and learned to love myself and so forth, my body would change into something worthwhile.

(There’s a whole ‘nother essay here about how deeply Protestant-work-ethic-y this all is, but I’ll save it.)

For today, all I want you to come away with is this: the Fantasy of Being Thin is not neutral, even though it feels as natural as breathing to everyone who’s known since preschool that fat = bad. We need other narratives around fat bodies. (Yes, I love Gabi: A Girl in Pieces and This One Summer and that other book that’s on the tip of your tongue, but we need more.)

Meet Our Guest Blogger

Katelyn Browne is the Youth Services Librarian at the University of Northern Iowa. She is also currently a member of the Amelia Bloomer Project and curates the Feminist Task Force’s Women of Library History project. You can find Katelyn on Twitter at @brownekr.

Middle Grade Monday – Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

I’m finally going to weigh in with my thoughts on the lyrical, breathtaking work of art that is Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming. Not that you really need my opinion. It has received, at last count, six starred reviews from major review publications, Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, Horn Book, School Library Journal, and the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books (I hope I didn’t miss one.) And, oh, it so deserves those stars.

Let me be all hipster for a moment and talk about my love for Jacqueline Woodson’s writing. My first year as a middle school librarian was a difficult one, due in large part to my co-librarian, who was a nightmare. But I will be forever grateful to her for introducing me to Jacqueline Woodson’s books. The first one I read was If You Come Softly, and I was immediately captivated. I read everything she had written to that point. Obviously, I was delighted when I found that she would be at my state’s school library association meeting. I got to her session early enough to get a seat on the front row! And then…I was dismayed to find that only half the seats were filled for the session. How could people skip it? Didn’t they know what they were missing? If I’m calculating correctly, this was fifteen years ago. So yes, I liked her books before she was ‘famous.’ I’m such a hipster.


Over the years I’ve kept up with her books. I was so pleased when she began to write picture books. They are as lovely, if not more so, than her novels. And then I caught word of Brown Girl Dreaming. Someone I knew had an ARC. I haunted NetGalley and Edelweiss until it became available as an electronic ARC, and then I gleefully pounced with my request. I was delighted when I was granted access, and my hopes were not disappointed. This memoir in verse is everything I could have hoped for from Woodson. In it she tells the story of growing up as an African American during the 60s and 70s, spending time both in New York and South Carolina. She addresses topics that are at once universal and intimately personal. Her writing (which has consistently improved with each publication) is breathtaking. I want this book to win ALL THE AWARDS – NBA, Newbery, Coretta Scott King – all of them!

We finally got our copies in last week, and I rushed to get them ready for my sixth grade classes. This was the test, I knew. I normally don’t have any trouble getting the sixth graders to engage with the novels I book talk, but this one was different. I wanted to make sure they understood just how amazing it is, so I read them one of my favorite passages. From page 61, the passage is titled “the reader”

When we can’t find my sister, we know
she is under the kitchen table, a book in her hand,
a glass of milk and a small bowl of peanuts beside her.

We know we can call Odella’s name out loud,
slap the table hard with our hands,
dance around it singing
“She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain”
so many times the song makes us sick
and the circling makes us dizzy
and still
my sister will do nothing more
than slowly turn the page. 

When I finished, there were gasps of appreciation from the students. Their eyes were universally fixed on me. The looks on their faces were all I needed to see. And that, my friends, is the true test. 

Sunday Reflections: Shelter from the Storm, a reflection on Torn Away by Jennifer Brown

Last night it stormed.

The real thunder and lightning kind of storm you don’t often get here in Texas. I knew it was coming because all of the sudden my dog had to come and sleep right on top of my head. That apparently is his safe place during a storm.

I forget what those storms can be like after just a couple of years here in Texas, but we had them all the time of course in Ohio. And since the flood of 2011, they still freak me out.

Even here in Texas. I keep waiting for the floods to come again, even though this dry, cracked land thirsts for the water something fierce.

In Ohio, after the flood, we all suffered a kind of post traumatic stress. Every storm that came we would brace ourselves: Will we flood again? I see it all the time on my Facebook feed when it starts to really rain in Ohio, my friends who remain start to post those worrying posts. My feed starts to fill up with reports of rain, the agitation begins as they wait to see if once again the rains will fill the streets and they’ll have to find a way to save themselves from those freezing, rushing waters. The memories haunt us.

In Torn Away by Jennifer Brown (which I recommend), a young girl – Jersey – loses her mother and sister in a tornado. She loses her home. She loses everything. And she is forced to go live with people she doesn’t know while she struggles to grieve losses that most of us as adults can’t even comprehend.

There are two compelling scenes where we realize just how traumatized Jersey has been by this storm. In one, she is shut in a dark basement by a couple of spoiled, bratty sisters and Jersey freaks out. The basement is where she hid when the sirens went off and she lost everything. It is not a safe space for her, it is a reminder. It is where she was when everything in her life changed.

Later in the story, a storm approaches again. The sirens go off. And Jersey is almost crippled by her fear. Long after the sirens go off she is still crouching in a sort of fetal position with her ears covered, screaming at the top of her lungs.

I understood all too well the fear that can grip you as you remember what has happened. I understood Jersey, and because I understood I can’t think of a book that has made me madder than this one in a long time. The way the adults acted in this book made me want to hurl the book across the room. I wanted them to give her the space and time to heal, to acknowledge her loss, to acknowledge her fear. I wanted them to be her shelter from the storm, but they didn’t always understand how to do that for her. And some of them were suffering their own very real losses. Finding emotional shelter can be just as harrowing a journey as Jersey’s attempt to find physical shelter after her town was demolished.

When the rains come, I can still feel that fear gripping me as I wonder how I’m going to get my kids out of a flooding house only to open my front door and see the waters raging by my front porch. They were 8 and 2. It was February 28th. The water was freezing. It was fast. It was a force of nature. And a good storm can put me right back into that moment. My girls, they mean everything to me and that moment when I did not know how I was going to get them to safety was the single most terrifying moment of my life. It haunts me. It will probably always haunt me.

No one died that day the flood came. But in our story, Jersey lost the only mother she’ll ever get. She lost a sister that loved the East Coast swing. And she lost that sense of safety that many kids get to keep for just a little bit longer, well the lucky ones do. Some of our teens are born into this life, into circumstances, that never let them develop that sense of safety and well being to lose. Some of them will spend their whole lives trying to find a shelter from the storm because of the situations they are born into.

In the years following the flooding of my town, there have been a lot of other storms. There was Superstorm Sandy. Far too many tornadoes. And just the other month there was flooding in Detroit. In the afterward author Jennifer Brown mentions that it was the tornadoes in Joplin that inspired Torn Away. I can’t help thinking, sometimes, that is seems like there are so many more severe, life taking storms lately. Or maybe I’m just more aware of them now because I look for them. Or maybe it’s both. But in that moment, I learned just how unsafe this world can be. Again. But as the community came together to clean up, I also learned that sometimes the darkest of moments can bring out the very best in us.

That night as I closed my front door and told my girls to get dressed a knock came. And there stood two men, asking if I needed help. Those men, a true miracle to me, carried my daughters through the cold, rushing waters to the top of a hill where we found safety. A friend from another town came and picked us up. Another friend let us stay with them for a week while our house was repaired. Other friends took up a donation to replace the food in our refrigerator. Small acts of kindness became our shelter from the storm.

The truth is, there are a lot of Jersey’s around us – haunted by a storm, a moment that changed everything. A moment that reminded us that mother nature is a force to be reckoned with and that you can lose everything in a moment. A moment that turns on our fear switch that we can never really ever find a way to turn back off so that with every drop of rain, we look in true awe inspiring fear wondering what the storm will take from us this time. Teens learn that the world is not a safe place in many ways and in their own time, but we also have to make sure that we are teaching them that there can be shelter from the storm in the people you love and the power of community. Because that’s what we all need, a little shelter from the storm and a little hope for the future.

Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover, a guest post by Some Boys author Patty Blount

Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover

How many times have we heard this phrase? 
In my latest novel, Some Boys, main character Grace Collier tells her best friends what Zac McMahon did to her that night at a party. Zac McMahon, captain of the lacrosse team, movie-star gorgeous and Mr. popular. Grace wears sexy clothes, too much makeup, and has a big mouth. 
They don’t believe her. They think she’s lying and take his side –  Isn’t it ironic that stories like Grace’s always come down to who looks the part
When I was researching the topics covered in this novel, I found a website called Project Unbreakable. It was started by a photographer named Grace Brown when she was just nineteen years old. Since its start, the website has collected and displayed over two thousand photographs of survivors of sexual assault and rape holding up signs bearing quotes that hurt them – most are from their attackers, but many are from their friends, relatives, the police, doctors, and judges – all doing their best to put blame where it does not belong – on the victims. 
I spent hours exploring this website, reading every poster, looking at every survivor’s picture. I named my heroine Grace because of this website. And when I reached the last image, one thing became abundantly clear to me. 
There is no part, no typical victim. It doesn’t matter how old you are, if you’re gay or straight, single or in a relationship. It doesn’t matter what you wear or what you said. It doesn’t matter where you went or what time of day it was. 
But lots of people will try to tell you all that stuff does matter. They’ll try to tell you it’s your fault. Do not accept it. Do not believe it. 
That’s an excuse, a defense mechanism, a way to explain the unthinkable – that yes, even good kidsare capable of this despicable crime. 
If your friends tell you a story like this, be the friend who does not ask them what they wore, how much they had to drink, or whether they’d already slept with that person before. Be the friend who holds out her arms and says, “It wasn’t your fault. Let me help you.”
Some Boys by Patty Blount
Book Description: Some girls say no. Some boys don’t listen.
When Grace meets Ian, she’s afraid. Afraid he’ll reject her like the rest of the school, like her own family. After she accuses Zac, the town golden boy, of rape, everyone turns against her. Ian wouldn’t be the first to call her a slut and a liar.
Except Ian doesn’t reject her. He’s the one person who looks past the taunts and the names and the tough-girl act to see the real Grace. He’s the one who gives her the courage to fight back.
He’s also Zac’s best friend.

Patty Blount works as a software technical writer by day and novelist by night. Dared by her 13-year-old son to try fiction, Patty wrote her first manuscript in an ice rink. A short version of her debut novel, Send, finished in the top ten of the Writer’s Digest 79th Annual Writing Competition.

Buy Links:

Kobo: http://bit.ly/1peeK9a

Middle Grade Monday Book Review – Bad Magic by Pseudonymous Bosch

https://www.hachettebookgroup.com/titles/pseudonymous-bosch/bad-magic/9780316320382/

Clay is a go along to get along kind of guy. Almost thirteen, he is a fairly typical adolescent; he likes to skateboard, wears hoodies, and has a sustained interest in graffiti style art. Not that he would ever do something illegal, like tag a building, but he does like to practice and the walls of his room are covered in his art work. So, it comes as a great shock to him to walk into school and find one of his ‘pieces’ written distinctly on the wall (MAGIC SUCKS!), and signed with his name. 

Understandably, the school believes that Clay has defaced their property and makes ‘a punishment’ a condition of his return to school for the following year. They allow Clay’s parents to decide what form that punishment will take. In essence, this means that Clay gets to decide.


Wait, let’s back up a little… You see, both of Clay’s parents are psychologists. Clay has a much older brother, Max-Ernest, whom his parents believe they parented too actively. So, when Clay is born 12 years later, they decide to go completely hands-off. So Clay is raised mostly by Max-Ernest…until he disappears. Now Clay is essentially raising himself. Which leads to the explanation for MAGIC SUCKS! being a piece of Clay’s work. Max-Ernest’s abiding passion was magic tricks, and he taught Clay many of them. When Max-Ernest leaves the family with virtually no explanation, Clay needs a focus for his anger and resentment – he chooses magic.

Clay’s parents, for once, decide to choose ‘a consequence’ for him, and send him to Earth Ranch, which is advertised as a camp designed to help “children outgrow problem behaviors and reach their full potential.” After reading the brochure, helpfully provided by the teacher that believes Clay tagged the school wall, he declares that it is “Alcatraz… on a volcano… with llamas!” He’s not wrong. This is where most of the action of the book takes place.

What happens at camp, and indeed most of the book, is based loosely on William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. Being only vaguely aware of it myself, I can confidently say that lack of knowledge of Shakespeare, or The Tempest, will not impede young readers in their enjoyment of this novel.

This highly entertaining read reminded me of two things – Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events books, and Louis Sachar’s book Holes. Narrated in third person omniscient, and often directly addressing the reader, it is somewhat similar in style and tone to the SUE. The whole ‘weird camp that you don’t understand where their is something else going on’ thing is also a major component. Although, thankfully, the adults involved are all sympathetic to the protagonist. I really enjoy books that manage to pull this type of story off without making an adult evil. Not that it doesn’t fully convey the adolescent sense of misunderstanding of adult motives and lack of personal agency. It has that in spades.

I highly recommend this engaging read to anyone serving Middle Grades students. It is scheduled to be available for purchase this September from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (ISBN 9780316320382).

Sherlock and the Curious Case of Fanfiction, a guest post by author Frankie Brown

Image Source: I Want to be a Pin Up w/Sherlock Fanfic Recs

People like to call fiction — especially fanfiction — escapism, as if that’s a bad thing. Fiction does let you escape yourself, but that’s wonderful if inside yourself is sometimes a scary place to be. Fiction has always been my therapy. 

Nothing is better than getting so lost in a story, whether reading or writing it, that I look up and I’m surprised the world is still there. The time I spend sleuthing around London with Sherlock is like that. The London chill becomes so real I have to pull on a cable knit sweater.

My own craving for escape comes from anxiety that sometimes makes my life feel like flashes of a train wreck, or that tunnel scene from Willy Wonka (you know the one?).

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8X48RiKQmFQ?rel=0]
 Anxiety doesn’t compartmentalize itself. There’s no box in my head neatly labeled “panic attacks” with another separate box for writing. Often it feels like I’m trying to type on Wonka’s boat.

My writing anxiety didn’t go away after I signed with my agent (the fabulous JL Stermer), or after I signed a contract with Bloomsbury. It’s there every time I sit down at the keyboard. I feel it right now.

I signed with my agent on August 1st, and signed my contract with Bloomsbury Spark on September 1st. My book was published on December 19th (all in the same year). In between signing with Bloomsbury and publishing with Bloomsbury, my life was a blur of edits and micromanaging sentences. I was buried in my book, swimming in words, commas and semicolons.

Could I start my next novel? No way.

But I was obsessed with BBC’s Sherlock. That and my edits were all I could talk about (bless the brave souls who tolerated me). I couldn’t invest in writing original fiction. I was too tired, too anxious, too stuck on Wonka’s boat to devote myself to writing another novel right away.

Plus, I couldn’t stop thinking about Sherlock. Reading The Complete Sherlock Holmes, rewatching episodes of the BBC series, taking three moleskines worth of notes on character development and plot construction — I was completely hooked. Add the fact that I’d just finished reading Rainbow Rowell’s FANGIRL for the fourth or fifth time, and I’m sure you know what happened next.

Fanfiction. Lots and lots of Sherlock fanfiction.

Reading it, writing it (Yes! Writing it!), reviewing it, chatting with bloggers and digging through archives. Sitting down to write about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson didn’t make my chest feel tight or my throat close up. There were no expectations. If it sucked, who cared? No one would know it was me.

But of course it was me. Me at the keyboard, remembering why I loved writing, and — eventually, tentatively — typing out the first sentences to my next novel. When I submitted my final edits to Meredith, editor-in-awesome at Bloomsbury Spark, I was as happy and excited as I should’ve been. No psychedelic Willy Wonka tunnel trip in sight.

Thank you, Mr. Holmes.

About Frankie Brown:

Frankie Brown writes, sells and hoards books in Athens, GA, a funky little town famous for its music scene. But, as anyone who’s ever heard the fruits of Frankie’s musical endeavors can attest, her talents lie elsewhere. She’s turned her creative energy to crafting stories and can typically be found hunched over a keyboard in her neighborhood coffee shops. @frankiebrown25

Until We End by Frankie Brown
It’s been nine months since the virus hit, killing almost everyone it touched. Seventeen-year-old Cora and her little brother, Coby, haven’t left home since. Not after the power cut out; not even after sirens faded in the distance and the world outside their backyard fence fell silent. But when a blistering drought forces Cora to go in search of water, she discovers that the post-apocalyptic world isn’t as deserted as she thought when she meets Brooks, a drop-dead sexy army deserter. 

Fighting their way back home, Cora finds her house ransacked and Coby missing – kidnapped by the military for dangerous medical experiments in the name of finding a cure. Brooks knows exactly where Cora can find her brother, except he says it’s a suicide mission. Cora doesn’t care. But Brooks can’t let her go…

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

Book Review: Thousdand Words by Jennifer Brown (and a look at Sexting)

The summer before Ashleigh’s boyfriend leaves for college, she fears she is going to lose him.  One night at a party, she sends him a picture.  Drunk and spurred on my a couple of friends at the party, she can’t believe she is doing this – but it is one of THOSE pictures, a nude selfie.  It was supposed to be for his eyes only, but when Kaleb an Ashleigh have a bad breakup, he gets revenge by forwarding the picture on, which is why he is facing jail time and Ashleigh finds herself doing community service.

Jennifer Brown is well known for her spot on realistic fiction that touches on current issues.  With The Hate List, she presented a richly emotionally tale of school shootings.  In Perfect Escape she shared the complex life of a young girl’s life who had been deeply touched by the struggles of a brother with OCD.  And in Thousand Words she is looking at the phenomenon of sexting, a very timely issue.

“Among 14- to 24-year-olds who admit to sexting, 29 percent send these messages to people they have never met, but know from the Internet.” – Do Something

According to the Do Something campaign, sexting is defined as “an act of sending sexually explicit materials through mobile phones.”  In an effort to send strong messages to teens regarding this topic, teenage girls who send pictures of themselves to boyfriends, like Ashleigh, are often charged with Child Pornography.  Because Kaleb, Ashleigh’s ex, is over the age of 18 when he forwards the picture, the chargest against him are more severe and it is possible that he will have to register for the rest of his life as a sex offender.  Thousand Words makes it very clear that there are serious consequences involved.

So let’s talk about Kaleb for a moment.  Although Kaleb is being charged and treated as an adult, it is very clear that he is just barely an adult.  He may have turned 18, but he is a college Freshman who gets caught up in a very emotional moment.  THINGS have happened to anger and embarrass him; these do not justify his actions, but they definitely give it context.  Throughout Thousand Words it is very clear that many of the teens involved view the event much differently than the adults, highlighting the very muddy waters that actual court cases are currently taking.  Lawmakers and courts are trying to figure out how to deal with this phenom and the opinions range from charging everyone involved to punishing it as a crime less than child pornography.  Thousand Words presents an interesting look at the various emotional and legal reactions, including the child pornography aspect.

“Nearly 40 percent of all teenagers have posted or sent sexually suggestive messages, but this practice is more common among boys than girls.” – Do Something

Soon the texts and emails start.  The whispers in the hallway; “slut” uttered under the breath, the lewd offers from boys she has never seen, the stares.  It is in the consequences – emotional and raw – that Brown excels in telling this story.  With a single click, Ashleigh’s world is forever changed.  And it’s not just Ashleigh, but the effects on her family are shown as well.  More than just shame and concern, Ashleigh’s parents face serious professional consequences as their community reacts to the picture being shared from teen to teen. 

Thousand Words is told by alternating the past and the present.  As we begin, Ashleigh shows up to community service where she is to put together an informational brochure and educational materials on the topic of sexting. We flash back and forth between the present and the past as we learn about the lead up to the picture, the day it was taken, and the days after the picture is shared.  It is an effective way to tell this particular story and keep the readers engaged.

“In the U.S., 8 states have enacted bills to protect minors from sexting, and an additional 14 states have proposed bills to legislation”. – Do Something

In community service, Ashleigh meets a wide variety of teens dealing with several issues: teen pregnancy, petty crimes, fighting.  Here she also meets Mack, who turns out to be the real shining star of this book.  He is supportive and encouraging to Ashleigh, never really responds or talks about the picture, and helps her finally to take back the power over her life. Forgiveness, empowerment, respect for self and others – these are just a few of the very discussable themes found within Thousand Words.

Overall, I felt that Brown wrote an interesting story about a timely issue without delving into after school special territory.  The issue became the thing rather than the characters, so the characters are less fully formed and compelling at times, though the consequences of the sexting are spot on and emotionally taut.  Thousand Words is timely and effectively deals with both the legal and emotional ramifications of sexting with some discussion of forgiveness, both forgiving self and others (or not as the case may be).  Pair this with Going Underground by Susan Vaught and Canary by Rachele Alpine for a more in depth look at sexting.  3 out of 5 stars. May 2013 from Little, Brown.  ISBN: 9780316209724.

What’s it take to run a book club with teens? Author Teri Brown shares her experience

When I set out to run a book club for teens at a community center in a low income apartment complex, I thought it would be a piece of cake.

 

I know, I know. Naïve much?



At the time, I was working fifteen hours a week for the children’s program at Community Partners of Affordable Housing, an organization that fights poverty on many levels. As a teen author, I gravitated toward the middle grade and teen members of the community and starting a book club seemed like a natural fit.

My goal in starting the book club was simple…I wanted the kids to love reading as much as I did. Literacy has always been important to me and this was a way I could share what I loved with others. So I spoke to the powers that be, got the go ahead and started in. A few things became immediately apparent:

First off, free books wouldn’t be enough to fill up the signup sheet. I needed something more. So I decided food would be the draw. Teens love food!

Secondly, coming up with eight to ten of the same books wasn’t easy. Authors often don’t get that many books and most of what we get is earmarked for contests and such. It was during this time that I found out just how awesome the teen lit community is and actually had authors buy other authors books for the club. Amazing.

And third, I would lean on my local fellow teen authors for free visits.

It worked like a charm. Suddenly my spots filled up and I had ten happy, hungry teens. I couldn’t have any more than that as I wasn’t sure I would be able to come up with nine months of free books every year for ten teens, let alone more.

The book club ran for almost four years. I watched several of my teens go from freshmen to proud graduates, overcoming obstacles that most of us couldn’t even imagine. Running a book club for teens at a community center was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done … even if I did feel like a fish out of water more than once.

 A few of the things I learned:

*No matter how much you’re enjoying yourself, someone has to remain firmly in charge. It amazed me just how quickly something fun, such as a spitwad blown through a straw, could disintegrate into a food fight. I know this seems elementary, but it still took me by surprise.

*I tried to offer new food experiences… once we had an English tea and another time we had both cheese and chocolate fondue. Once a year we would do a potluck and they would share their favorite foods…I think it helped them take ownership of our club.

* Two to three times a year I would choose a book from a local author and we would have them come to visit. The visitor would come a bit later so that I could make sure the kids had prepped. They LOVED meeting authors.

* Too my surprise, they loved reading out loud and always asked to do it. I never made someone read but after passing a couple of times, everyone would overcome their shyness, even the kids to whom English was a second language.

One of the things I had to come to grips with is the transitory nature of friendships with teens. They grow up. They move on. Out of the ten kids that started book club with me, three of them are confirmed readers. Two have gone on to higher education, making them the first in their families to do so and I feel confident the third will as soon as she graduates. I’ve lost touch with the others, but hope that they remember our time together with fondness and are still reading books for the love of reading.

Born of Illusion by Teri Brown
June 11, 2013 by Balzer & Bray
Teri Brown is proud of her two children but coming in a close second is the fact that she parachuted out of a plane and beat the original Legend of Zelda video game. She is the author of the Summerset Abbey Series, a New Adult Edwardian trilogy she writes under TJ Brown and the author of Born of Illusion, a Young Adult novel coming out in June 2013 from Balzer +Bray. You can find her at www.tjbrownbooks.com or www.Teribrownbooks.com.

Don’t Miss These Titles! Great Middle Grade and Guy Reads!

At ALA, I happened to pick up a ton of middle grade reads.  Generally, this is not an area which I consider myself very well read but I was thrilled to get my hands on these ARCs and even more excited that I actually really liked them!  Since some of them don’t come out for a while, I can’t officially ‘review’ them, but I can recommend them for your collections!

The first book is Liar & Spy by Rebecca STead (9780385737432, release date 8/7/12, Random House Children’s Books).  Seventh grader Georges (the ‘s’ is silent) moves into a new apartment building and meets Safer, a spy who has started his own spy club (of which no one is a member but Safer UNTIL NOW!).  Together, Georges and Safer decide to uncover the secrets behind mystery man Mr. X, another apartment tenant.  Is he a mass murderer or does he just travel with big bulky suitcases all the time?  Excellent add to the middle grade collection and a good clean read.  Rebecca STead is a former Newbery Award winner and this book did not let me down at all.  (ISBN: 9780385737432, Release Date: 8/7/12, Random House Children’s Books)

Colin Fischer is a book that completely caught me by surprise.  I wanted a copy at ALA because the cover intrigued me.  Invisible boy with pictures of different facial expressions?  I had no idea where Miller and Stentz were going with this book.  Colin Fischer has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism, and he is a modern day Encyclopedia Brown.  After a disaster in the school cafeteria involving an exploded birthday cake and a gun, the school immediately blames troublemaker Wayne Connelly.  But Colin is dead set that Wayne is innocent and despite Wayne’s treatment of Colin in the past, he decides to prove to everyone that Wayne is innocent.  This is like reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time but more toned down.  Great for all ages and I adored Colin’s voice.  (ISBN: 9781595145789, Release Date: 11/8/12, Penguin YRG)

Ungifted by Gordon Korman is every bit as perfect as every Korman novel and never disappoints.  If you’re not familiar with Korman, get familiar.  His books are laugh out loud funny, at times super serious, and all together excellent reads.  Donovan Curtis is your typical troublemaker and after a very disastrous stunt, he is accidentally placed into the Academy for Scholastic Distinction for gifted and talented students.  Faking it so that he can stay out trouble, Donovan immediately sticks out like a sore thumb.  Trying desperately to fit in and to keep out of the limelight, Donovan does everything in his power to seem ‘gifted’ like his classmates.  Another excellent read for all ages and a great addition to all collections.  (ISBN: 9780061742668, Release date: 8/21/12, Balzer + Bray)

SIDENOTE: Liar & Spy and Colin Fischer are both available on Edelweiss!