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Book Review: Violets Are Blue by Barbara Dee

Publisher’s description

From the author of the acclaimed My Life in the Fish Tank and Maybe He Just Likes You comes a moving and relatable middle grade novel about secrets, family, and the power of forgiveness.

Twelve-year-old Wren loves makeup—special effect makeup, to be exact. When she is experimenting with new looks, Wren can create a different version of herself. A girl who isn’t in a sort-of-best friendship with someone who seems like she hates her. A girl whose parents aren’t divorced and doesn’t have to learn to like her new stepmom.

So, when Wren and her mom move to a new town for a fresh start, she is cautiously optimistic. And things seem to fall into place when Wren meets potential friends and gets selected as the makeup artist for her school’s upcoming production of Wicked.

Only, Wren’s mom isn’t doing so well. She’s taking a lot of naps, starts snapping at Wren for no reason, and always seems to be sick. And what’s worse, Wren keeps getting hints that things aren’t going well at her new job at the hospital, where her mom is a nurse. And after an opening night disaster leads to a heartbreaking discovery, Wren realizes that her mother has a serious problem—a problem that can’t be wiped away or covered up. 

After all the progress she’s made, can Wren start over again with her devastating new normal? And will she ever be able to heal the broken trust with her mom?

Amanda’s thoughts

Barbara Dee is writing some of the best middle grade out there. Fact.

Here’s the problem that Wren’s mom is struggling with, the problem referenced up in the summary but not explicitly said: she’s addicted to opioids. And she’s Wren’s only parent around (her dad is in NY with his new wife and kids), so things are ROUGH for Wren. But you’d maybe never know that. She’s pretty self-sufficient, doesn’t really let on to others how bad her mom has gotten (and Wren doesn’t know what her mom is doing—she just knows she’s sleeping/out of it a lot, lying, missing work, and not really being on top of the whole “mom” thing), and she just kind of muddles along. Also, she is just a kid. She misses or misunderstands lots of signs that something serious may be happening with her mom, but she’s in 7th grade; it’s not her job to be monitoring her mother for drug use. Wren is busy with her own life, adjusting to her new school (and friends and classmates) and getting really into doing special effects makeup, including for the school play. And she’s adjusting to her new family situation, with her dad halfway across the country from her, with a new wife and baby twins. Wren’s mom doesn’t want her to “talk behind her back” to her dad, so Wren never expresses any concerns about what’s going on with her mom to her dad.

It’s not until things get REALLY bad for her mom that Wren really knows what’s going on. She’s been in survival mode for so long, just trying to keep everyone happy, not make problems, and pretend she’s always fine, that it feels like a LOT to suddenly have other people stepping in to help her and clarifying what’s happening.

While her mother’s opioid addiction is the most Important part of this story, there are many smaller important parts that also feel so significant to Wren. Negotiating new friends in middle school is almost always fraught with lots of peril, and Wren has ups and downs with her new classmates as she tries to figure out who’s nice, who seems fake, and who’s maybe just misunderstood. And her whole obsession with special effects makeup is pretty cool. She’s always watching tutorials and practicing on her friends and her mom. I loved this interest for her, given her very real need to be interested in wearing a mask, becoming someone else, changing your story, etc.

Like all of Dee’s others books, this one handles the more mundane and relatable just as seriously and skillfully as the heavy and specific. Both are shown as significant. For many middle schoolers, they have a lot going on in their home lives, a lot that they may be hiding. For Wren, we see her get through what she can alone, while feeling confused and not necessarily well cared for, but we also see her surrounded by support, love, and, eventually, help. A great read.


Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781534469181
Publisher: Aladdin
Publication date: 10/12/2021
Age Range: 9 – 13 Years

Book Review: In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner

Publisher’s Book Description: From the award-winning author of The Serpent King comes a beautiful examination of grief, found family, and young love.

Life in a small Appalachian town is not easy. Cash lost his mother to an opioid addiction and his Papaw is dying slowly from emphysema. Dodging drug dealers and watching out for his best friend, Delaney, is second nature. He’s been spending his summer mowing lawns while she works at Dairy Queen.

But when Delaney manages to secure both of them full rides to an elite prep school in Connecticut, Cash will have to grapple with his need to protect and love Delaney, and his love for the grandparents who saved him and the town he would have to leave behind.

Karen’s Thoughts:

This is a soul crushing book that makes your heart soar while ripping it out at the same time; it is profoundly moving and well written in the way that makes you want to frame quotes on your bedroom wall to carry you through life’s dark days.

Cash is a high school teenage boy who lives in abject poverty in the Appalachia region with his grandparents who are raising him since his mom died from an overdose. He is best friends with Delaney, who just happens to be a scientific genius. Because of an amazing discovery that she makes, the two are offered a scholarship to a prestigious boarding school (she is the type of friend who negotiates her deal to help a friend instead of leaving him behind). In the Wild Light is a peek behind the curtain in the life of a group of teenagers, but mostly a boy named Chase, who are trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be.

At school, Chase discovers poetry as a language to help him talk about his feelings, he finds his people, and in the process, he starts to find himself. It’s a moving character study that dismantles toxic masculinity, explores the heart of family and friendship, and introduces us to characters who have every obstacle put before them and you can’t help but root for them.

This is a stunning, achingly moving book. I loved everyone (except for the roommate, who you are not supposed to love). If you like moving and triumphant character studies, this is the book for you: full of grief, hope, joy, anger and triumph.

Some of the issues tackled in the book include addiction, grief, sexual violence, bullying, and toxic masculinity.

Highly recommended.

Some additional books on the opioid crisis and addiction include:

Book covers pictured include Heroine by Mindy McGinnis, The Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley, They’ll Never Catch Us by Jessica Goodman and You’d Be Home by Now by Kathleen Glasgow (comes out September 28th)

Book Review: Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh

Every Body Looking

Publisher’s description

“Candice Iloh’s beautifully crafted narrative about family, belonging, sexuality, and telling our deepest truths in order to be whole is at once immensely readable and ultimately healing.”—Jacqueline Woodson, New York TimesBestselling Author of Brown Girl Dreaming

“An essential—and emotionally gripping and masterfully written and compulsively readable—addition to the coming-of-age canon.”—Nic Stone, New York Times Bestselling Author of Dear Martin

“This is a story about the sometimes toxic and heavy expectations set onthe backs of first-generation children, the pressures woven into the familydynamic, culturally and socially. About childhood secrets with sharp teeth. And ultimately, about a liberation that taunts every young person.” —Jason Reynolds, New York Times Bestselling Author of Long Way Down

Candice Iloh weaves the key moments of Ada’s young life—her mother’s descent into addiction, her father’s attempts to create a home for his American daughter more like the one he knew in Nigeria, her first year at a historically black college—into a luminous and inspiring verse novel.

Amanda’s thoughts

Here’s a thing that I say probably way too many times on this blog: I’m a character-driven reader who doesn’t need much more plot beyond “a person tries to figure out how to be a person in the world.” To me, there is no bigger, deeper, more compelling plot than that. And this book is such a wonderful exploration of how to be yourself. I read it in one sitting, which is a statement that probably makes authors die a little, given how long it takes to write a book.

While the current timeline of the story is during Ada’s first few weeks at a HBCU, we also see important moments from her life as a young child and again in middle school. Ada has always felt different and alone. Readers learn about her estrangement from her addict mother, her strict and religious Nigerian father, and the pressures Ada has always felt. College will finally allow her some freedom to find out who she really is, away from her family, but of course the idea of “finding yourself” sounds easier than it actually is.

Iloh writes, “when you start growing/further away from/what used to be home/you go looking for somewhere/that lets you be/what’s inside your head.”

I’m not sure I’ve read any better lines in any book this year. There is nothing Ada wants more than to be the person inside her head. She’s always been drawn to dance, but her practical father never saw the point in pursuing it. A chance encounter with Kendra, another dancer, provides connection and the encouragement to follow her desire.

It is both painful and joyful to watch Ada change, grow, learn, and become. At college, she has the freedom to explore her own mind, to find something that is hers, and to be seen. Ada discovers the power of seeing herself reflected, she learns what she wants and will tolerate in relationships, and she seeks to make her own path, uncertain how to do that and making mistakes along the way.

A hopeful, beautifully written, deeply affecting story of what we endure and overcome in the journey to become ourselves.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780525556206
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 09/22/2020
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Book Review: Heroine by Mindy McGinnis

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, which originally appeared in an issue of School Library Journal

 

 

heroineHeroine by Mindy McGinnis (ISBN-13: 9780062847195 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 03/12/2019)

★ 03/01/2019

Gr 9 Up—All it takes is one prescription to kick-start a student athlete’s frightening descent into opioid addiction. After surgery following a car accident, Ohio softball phenom Mickey Catalan is prescribed OxyContin for pain. When she starts to run out of the Oxy she relies on to get through her physical therapy, she gets pills from a dealer, through whom she meets other young addicts. Mickey rationalizes what she’s doing and sees herself as a good girl who’s not like others who use drugs (like new friend Josie, who uses because she’s “bored”). Mickey loves how the pills make her feel, how they take her out of herself and relieve the pressures in her life. Soon she’s stealing, lying, and moving on to heroin. Her divorced parents, including her recovering addict stepmother, suspect something is going on, but Mickey is skilled at hiding her addiction. A trigger warning rightfully cautions graphic depictions of drug use. In brutally raw detail, readers see Mickey and friends snort powders, shoot up, and go through withdrawal. Intense pacing propels the gripping story toward the inevitable conclusion already revealed in the prologue. An author’s note and resources for addiction recovery are appended. This powerful, harrowing, and compassionate story humanizes addiction and will challenge readers to rethink what they may believe about addicts. VERDICT From the horrific first line to the hopeful yet devastating conclusion, McGinnis knocks it out of the park. A first purchase for all libraries serving teens.

TLTer Karen Jensen also discusses and highly recommends Heroine by Mindy McGinnis in this previous TLT post.

Written Across My Skin, a guest post by Lizzy Mason

(Content warning: self-harm and suicide/suicidal ideation)

 

Lizzy Mason's debut novel.

Lizzy Mason’s debut novel.

The first time I cut myself, I’d just watched a movie in which a girl tried to commit suicide with a disposable razor. I’d considered suicide before, but that night, I broke apart my own razor. Slicing the skin on my wrist with a thin, tiny blade hurt worse than I’d expected and it only left light red scratches. I put on long sleeves and went to bed. In the morning, little evidence of my suicide attempt remained.

 

The next time I was depressed, I cut myself again. And then again. I still thought about killing myself, but I liked the shallow cuts that hurt, but didn’t really bleed much. Every time I looked at them, I could see that the pain I was carrying inside was real. It was tangible. It was written across my skin.

 

Eventually, my parents took me to a psychiatrist. But he only sat with me for five minutes before diagnosing me with depressive disorder and giving me a prescription. This wasn’t my first psychiatrist or therapist—I’d been seeing psychiatrists, social workers, and therapists for years being tested, evaluated, even hypnotized—but this was the first time I’d been put on medication. I took it sporadically and without hope. And I still cut myself. I still wanted to cut myself.

 

I also started drinking and doing drugs. It was another way to self-harm. Because I didn’t know how else to show that I wasn’t happy, that I wanted desperately to be accepted. I felt so ashamed of who I was, so miserable in my own skin, and getting drunk and high was just another way to prove how worthless I was. Usually, I’d cut myself when I got home.

 

A few weeks into my junior year of high school, my parents were waiting for me when I came home from a party. They drug tested me and, shortly after, put me in rehab. It was outpatient, four days a week after school for three hours, and I was drug tested regularly.

 

One of the first things the counselors in rehab asked me to do was write my drug history. Despite only using for two years, when I handed it in, it was four single-spaced, typed pages. The counselors told me no one had ever written a narrative story for them the way I had. They usually received hand-written lists on torn notebook paper.

 

It was the first time I’d ever written about my depression, aside from really bad poetry, and it was a way to put everything that I’d been feeling into words. Instead of carving it into my skin.

 

Through four months of rehab and another five months group therapy, as well as Alcoholics Anonymous meetings almost every night, I was forced to confront why I cut and drank and got high. Why I wanted to hurt myself. And I was surrounded by other people who knew exactly how I felt. I had never felt so seen.

 

Just like using, cutting was an addiction that I had to stop. And I had relapses. But if I cut myself, I had to admit it. I had to talk about what made me do it, why I felt the way I had, and how I felt afterward. I had to examine why I felt like hurting myself.

 

It’s now been more than ten years since the last time I cut myself, but I still think about doing it. Sometimes once a year, sometimes every week.  But I haven’t. And that’s the important thing.

 

Medication has been life changing. It took me too long, but I finally accepted that I need to take antidepressants and I see my psychiatrist regularly. I pay attention when I start to feel panicked or depressed and try to work through it instead of letting it overwhelm me. And I know that sometimes I’m going to overreact anyway. Sometimes I just need to cry.
And I’m open about my mental illnesses, especially with teens. I wrote about addiction in The Art of Losing, and how easily the things we love can slip away as a result of the mistakes we make, because teens especially need to see that self-harm is never truly only harmful to just one person. Drug and alcohol abuse can affect more than just the person using them.

 

But the story is also about accepting change, and believing that a different future is possible. Sometimes I still need that reminder too.

 

Meet Lizzy Mason

Photo credit: Meredith Rich

Photo credit: Meredith Rich

Lizzy Mason is the author of the YA novel The Art of Losing. She lives in Queens, New York, with her husband and cat in an apartment full of books. Find her online at www.LizzyMasonBooks.com and on Twitter and Instagram at @lizzymason21.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About THE ART OF LOSING by Lizzy Mason

The Art of Losing is a compelling debut that explores issues of addiction, sisterhood, and loss.

On one terrible night, 17-year-old Harley Langston’s life changes forever. At a party she discovers her boyfriend, Mike, hooking up with her younger sister, Audrey. Furious, she abandons them both. When Mike drunkenly attempts to drive Audrey home, he crashes and Audrey ends up in a coma. Now Harley is left with guilt, grief, pain and the undeniable truth that her now ex-boyfriend has a drinking problem. So it’s a surprise that she finds herself reconnecting with Raf, a neighbor and childhood friend who’s recently out of rehab and still wrestling with his own demons. At first Harley doesn’t want to get too close to him. But as her sister slowly recovers, Harley begins to see a path forward with Raf’s help that she never would have believed possible—one guided by honesty, forgiveness, and redemption.

(SEE AMANDA’S REVIEW HERE.)

ISBN-13: 9781616959876
Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 02/19/2019

Book Review: The Art of Losing by Lizzy Mason

Publisher’s description

art of losingThe Art of Losing is a compelling debut that explores issues of addiction, sisterhood, and loss.

On one terrible night, 17-year-old Harley Langston’s life changes forever. At a party she discovers her boyfriend, Mike, hooking up with her younger sister, Audrey. Furious, she abandons them both. When Mike drunkenly attempts to drive Audrey home, he crashes and Audrey ends up in a coma. Now Harley is left with guilt, grief, pain and the undeniable truth that her now ex-boyfriend has a drinking problem. So it’s a surprise that she finds herself reconnecting with Raf, a neighbor and childhood friend who’s recently out of rehab and still wrestling with his own demons. At first Harley doesn’t want to get too close to him. But as her sister slowly recovers, Harley begins to see a path forward with Raf’s help that she never would have believed possible—one guided by honesty, forgiveness, and redemption.

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

One terrible night throws Harley’s entire life into chaos and makes her reevaluate her relationships, beliefs, and goals. The little summary up there from the publisher does an adequate job of hitting the highlights of the action of the plot, but since this is very much a character-driven story, about change and growth and moving forward, it doesn’t capture the powerfully emotional and resonant connections, struggles, and healing that make up the story.

 

While Harley’s sister Audrey is in a medically-induced coma following a car accident caused by Harley’s boyfriend, Mike, who was driving drunk, Harley is left to figure out her feelings toward both her sister and Mike (who she busted hooking up together at a party) as well as figure out who she is now that she’s no longer Mike’s Girlfriend. She had let herself become defined by her relationship with him over the past few years, losing herself and her real interests in the process. To her surprise, she starts hanging out again with her neighbor, Rafael, who she used to be really close with but now never talks to. Raf tells her he’s recently out of rehab, though he’s not totally convinced yet that he’s actually an alcoholic or an addict. Given Mike’s history of drinking, and that he’s now attending court-mandated rehab, Harley is a little wary of Raf, but quickly gets over any misgivings when she realizes that he still just totally gets her. He’s open, honest, thoughtful, talented, interesting, and not at all certain about his future. He’s also at a bit of a loss right now, just like Harley, because he’s broken ties with his old friends, who aren’t conducive to his recovery. Harley may worry that he’s a mess, and Raf may think that about himself, but he’s not. He’s just trying to figure some stuff out while beginning to understand that sobriety is a lifelong struggle. Harley has her own stuff to be dealing with—she feels guilty about what happened to her sister, feels a little lost without being with Mike anymore, and while she loves hanging out with Raf and is starting to realize her deeper feelings for him, she doesn’t think she should get to be happy right now.

 

Audrey’s progress while in the hospital is extremely slow. She wakes up for a bit a few times before finally coming fully out of her coma. Audrey has a lot of gaps in her memory, including no idea what happened the night of the party. Harley hasn’t even told her parents what actually happened and how Audrey ended up getting a ride home with Mike and not Harley. It’s all so complicated and painful, especially given Mike’s history of drinking and cheating, and the fact that Harley stuck around through all that. She has minimal interaction with Mike post-accident, including a visit to him at rehab while he is supposedly making amends. But unlike Raf, who has some missteps but is committed to sobriety, Mike hasn’t learned much from the accident, rehab, or Audrey’s coma, and goes right back to his partying ways. Thank goodness Harley cuts her ties with him and works through her own stuff in the company of Raf. They both start to understand more about themselves, like Raf likes to avoid reality and Harley is used to stuffing away her feelings. They both have a lot of insecurities (as does Mike) and Harley has trust issues. But she asks to see a therapist to start to work through everything, with the goal of learning how to stand up for herself and say what she actually feels. Together with Raf she learns that both recovery and just overcoming things in general is not an uninterrupted straight line. Life is complicated and messy, but both Raf and Harley are coming to understand that they can change the narrative and move forward, learning from their past and experiences but also not letting them define them.

 

I burned through this book because Mason presents engaging characters who go through real journeys in the course of the story. There is much to relate to here, including working through problems, redefining yourself, taking accountability, and learning forgiveness. There’s a lot of depth to the story and the characters, for the most part, are nuanced and imperfect but willing to work, change, and move on. This realistic look at addiction and its impact on lives is somber but ultimately hopeful. This well-written debut has lots of layers and will be an easy one to recommend to fans of contemporary YA. 

 

 

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781616959876
Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 02/19/2019

The American Opioid Crisis in YA Literature

For the past couple of years, national, state and local communities in the United States have been trying to figure out how to deal with the growing opioid crisis. In the city of Mount Vernon, Ohio, where I currently work, I went to a series of training sessions last year that discussed this growing issue. This past year, there was also a state wide day of dialogue about the opioid crisis and public libraries, which some of my peers attended. It has struck me, however, that this topic hasn’t come up as much as it feels like it should given current statistics in YA literature. Until now.

real talk addiction brochure 1 real talk addiction brochure 2

Some Beginning Resources RE The American Opioid Epidemic/Crisis

Opioid Overdose Crisis | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

Opioid Epidemic – HHS.gov

Opioid Crisis Fast Facts – CNN – CNN.com

I’ve recently read two forthcoming books which include or directly address the current opioid crisis in not just the United States, but specifically in the state of Ohio. Ohio is current ranked third in terms of states struggling with the impact crisis. Although there are often times when a state wants to be so highly ranked, this is sadly not one of those times. The opioid crisis is having a very real impact on Ohio citizens. I know teens who have watched their parents overdose and been forced to call 911, I know teens who currently have parents serving in jail, and I know teens that are struggling to eat because of poverty who are eating even less because their parents are using whatever little income they have to buy drugs. I don’t know a lot of teens who are doing drugs themselves, though I know that they exist, in part because they don’t appear to be coming into our libraries.

heroine

Heroine by Ohio resident Mindy McGinnis is a realistic look at how one very dedicated, athletic teen with a promising future loses it all because of her slow descent into opioid addiction. In Heroine, Mickey’s use begins as many others has, because she is prescribed pain killers after a devastating accident. It is believed that a lot of our current opioid crisis began because doctors were over prescribing painkillers. In Heroine, Mickey is in a devastating car accident that causes very real trauma to her body and painkillers are prescribed to help control the pain while healing. In part because Mickey tries to rush her healing and get back on the field, her painkiller use becomes amplified. Soon, like many addicts, MC is trying to find ways to get drugs because she can no longer get them through her doctor. Mickey finds herself a supplier and begins hanging out with other addicts as her life spirals out of control.

YA A to Z: Guilt, Shame and Blame – Heroin Overdose Deaths in Teen

With Heroine, McGinnis provides a very realistic look at how addiction works and how even the most successful of us can become caught in its throes. Each decision leads to the next and before our main character knows it, everything about who they are and how they function in the world changes. It’s a hard but necessary read for a world trying to understand what addiction is like. Heroine ends on a realistic but hopeful note, not glossing over the fact that addiction is a lifelong issue but that with the right tools and support, you can put your life back onto a positive track.

The American Opioid Crisis: A Reading List – Book Riot

what you hide

What You Hide by Natalie D. Richards is not about addiction, but it takes place in a public library and it touches on how addiction is effecting libraries. Richards is not only an author, but she is an Ohioan who works during the day in an Ohio public library. I know Natalie and have visited her library (it’s very nice!) and am not surprised to find that she is contemplating the current effect that the opioid crisis is having on public libraries in Ohio. We all are. Most public libraries are making decisions based on the opioid crisis, whether it be trying to determine whether or not staff should be trained in administering Narcan or whether or not to keep the bathroom doors locked. Some libraries have put in needle disposal bins to help protect patrons and staff from loose needles. Some libraries are buying all hardwood furniture so that needles can’t be shoved down upholstered cracks where patrons or staff can be stuck by them. From staff training to resources to programming to policies and procedures, the opioid crisis is having a very definite effect on public libraries in Ohio and nationwide.

8 Fiction Books that Shed Light on the Opioid Crisis – Electric Literature

What You Hide is the story of a homeless teenager named Mallory who hides out in the library after closing for a safe place to stay. She has left home because her stepfather Charlie is psychologically abusive and she is worried about the growing threats of physical violence. At the library, she meets Spencer, who is volunteering at the library to fulfill a community service obligation. Early on in the book, a dead body is found in the library and it is believed that the young woman has died of an overdose. At several points in the book, as Mallory seeks to find a way to solve her problem, as Spencer tries to figure out who he is and who he wants to be, and as they both try to determine the origin of the weird goings on in the library, there are some very realistic discussions about addiction and the current opioid crisis.

See Also: Sunday Reflections: When the Opioid Crisis Hits the Library

If you know anything about the process of publishing, it can take a long time for a book to be written and then published. Books are often announced more than a year before publication date. So even as the crisis has been discussed and building, and as policy makers at all levels are trying to figure out how to address the issues, it has taken a while for the issue to be discussed and reflected in YA literature because of this slow publishing turnaround. There are plenty of YA literature titles that discuss addiction and substance abuse in general, though not nearly enough, but there are few that touch on this current opioid epidemic in particular. I was grateful as an Ohioan, as a public librarian, and as a teen librarian to read these titles. I thought that they both did a good job of talking about the issues, raising awareness, and helping us to better understand the current crisis in our world. They are very much needed in the world of contemporary YA literature. Our teens are dealing with these issues, our teen literature should be as well.

Additional Resources

Northeast Ohio Libraries Feel Impact of Opioid Epidemic

The Opioid Epidemic: How Can My Library Help? – PLA 2018

Opioid Symposium – Ohio Library Council

Libraries Confront the Opioid Crisis – School Library Journal

Opioids in Communities, Libraries in Response – State Library of Ohio

About Heroine by Mindy McGinnis

Three screws in her hip.
Two months until spring training.
One answer to all her problems.

Mickey Catalan is no stranger to the opioid epidemic in her small town. There are obituaries of classmates who “died suddenly” and stories of overdoses in gas station bathrooms—but none of that is her. No, Mickey is a star softball catcher—one part of a dynamic duo with her best friend and pitcher Carolina—about to start her senior season with hopes of college recruitment. Until a car accident shatters that plan, along with her hip and Carolina’s arm.

Now Mickey is hurting. She can barely walk, much less crouch behind the plate. Yet a little white pill can make it better. After all, it is doctor prescribed. But when the prescription runs out, Mickey turns to an elderly woman who pushes hot meatloaf and a baggie full of oxy across the kitchen counter. It’s there Mickey makes new friends—other athletes in pain, others with just time to kill—and finds peaceful acceptance, a place where she can find words more easily than she ever has before. But as the pressure to be Mickey Catalan heightens, her desire for pills becomes less about pain and more about want, something that could send her spiraling out of control.

Coming out March 2019 by Katherine Tegen Books

About What You Hide by Natalie D. Richards

A new pulse-pounding romantic thriller from the author of We All Fall Down and Six Months Later

Spencer volunteers at the library. Sure, it’s community service, but he likes his work. Especially if it means getting to see Mallory.

Mallory spends a lot of time keeping her head down. When you’re sixteen and homeless, nothing matters more than being anonymous. But Spencer’s charm makes her want to be noticed.

Then sinister things start happening at the library. Mysterious symbols and terrifying warnings begin to appear, and management grows suspicious. Spencer and Mallory know a homeless teenager makes an easy target, and if they can’t find the real culprit soon, they could lose more than just their safe haven…

Coming December 2018 by Sourcefire Books

Book Review: I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain by Will Walton

Publisher’s description

funeralHow do you deal with a hole in your life?

Do you turn to poets and pop songs?

Do you dream?

Do you try on love just to see how it fits?

Do you grieve?

If you’re Avery, you do all of these things. And you write it all down in an attempt to understand what’s happened–and is happening–to you.

I Felt a Funeral, In My Brain is an astonishing novel about navigating death and navigating life, at a time when the only map you have is the one you can draw for yourself.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Things in Avery’s life are not going great. He’s laid up after being injured in a car accident. His mother has (finally) gone to rehab. He’s temporarily living across the street from his home with his grandpa, whom he calls Pal, and his grandpa’s girlfriend, Babs. Things are a little weird with Luca, his neighbor and best friend—they’d made a plan to be each other’s firsts, but this seemingly simple plan is complicated by life and complex feelings. Through all of this, Avery, who writes poetry, is discovering the work of many other poets (Plath, Berryman, Sexton, O’Hara, Ginsberg, Dickinson), thanks to his English teacher, and finding his own voice and ways of processing life.

 

Walton’s novel will challenge readers. It’s a mix of narrative, poems, imagined conversations/dreams, and bits of a eulogy. As we move back and forth in time, readers will see that Avery is speaking at Pal’s funeral, but it takes a while to find out how we got there. Avery’s grief, pain, loss, fears, love, hope, passions, and identity all get expressed and explored through poetry and music. This short book packs a powerful punch as it looks at grief, love, addiction, and hope. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780545709569
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date: 05/29/2018

YA A to Z: Guilt, Shame and Blame – Heroin Overdose Deaths in Teen Fiction, a guest post by Kerry Sutherland

As I contemplate where to put this in YA A to Z, I realize there are far too many options. D for drugs, or death. E for epidemic, as our country is facing a devastating opioid epidemic. G for guilt. H for Heroine.  S for shame. I wanted to put it up now as opposed to later, because it’s such an important topic facing our teens today. So D it is, for death by drug overdose. I am thankful to Kerry Sutherland for sharing this post, and sharing her own experiences within it.

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As a young adult librarian, I meet many children and teens who have lost a loved one. Terminal illnesses, tragic accidents, suicide – I’ve heard about them all, and as an adult who still has the luxury of two living parents and a large group of friends I have known since kindergarten, I know how fortunate I am to have lost few of those close to me unexpectedly.

Unfortunately, some of those few have been young people in my family, and whether accepted or admitted as such or not, more than one of those deaths have been from a heroin overdose.

Wait – those don’t happen to middle class, white suburban families, do they?

real talk addiction brochure 1

real talk addiction brochure 2

Sunday Reflections: When the Opioid Crisis Hits the Library

My family would beg to differ, as shocked and pained as they were by each one. Did any of them struggle with addiction? Yes, but not all. Were there signs? Maybe, but maybe not. The big question is why. With family and friends who loved them, why? Was it accidental, or did they truly want to die? As those left behind, what have we as a family, and their friends, had to deal with, both within our own hearts and minds and those of others who are either quick to sympathize or to judge, or to act as if heroin played no role in the deaths at all because they are ashamed?

#MHYALit: Where Are the Books on Addiction for Your Mental Health Lists?

Plenty of teen fiction deals with death and loss, with grief and mourning, but when I looked into what novels I could offer teens in my area, which as a part of northeast Ohio has been hit hard by the opiate epidemic, I found very few that focus on heroin overdose deaths. What is different about those deaths, and why do teens need stories with that distinction, especially if they have either known someone who has overdosed or are vulnerable to becoming a user themselves?

A closer look at each of these titles makes the distinction and the need clear.

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In Sarah Porter’s When I Cast Your Shadow, two months have passed since Ruby’s “young and talented and amazing” older brother Dash died from a heroin overdose, but she is still devastated, in spite of her father’s attempt to force her, as well as Ruby’s twin brother Everett, to move on. Dash’s room has been emptied, new furniture replacing the old, and Ruby is trapped in memories of her attempts to follow Dash into rough neighborhoods, of Dash’s anger that she was exposing herself to his new life and that she had found him “crazed, filthy, with a feverish stench”: “You do not have my permission to see me like this . . . you will keep your image of me as bright and clean and blazing as a supernova.” Unfortunately, as much as she fights to maintain the dignity of Dash’s memory, she can’t forget that she knew about his addiction but was unable to prevent his death. Her father looks the facts straight on as if it would help Ruby get past her grief, telling her that Dash was manipulative, destructive, and selfish, but Ruby feels like “the only one who will fight for Dash, now that he can’t defend himself.” She was the only one who had any hope that he would get clean, and while she didn’t see his body after he died, she “heard they found him, naked in his girlfriend’s bed . . . with his head hanging over the edge and the needle still in his arm. Eyes wide and gray in the silvery morning light.” She thought that he had kicked heroin six months before his death, making it more of a shock. “I’ll never love anybody that much again,” she asserts, coming to realize that her father’s hatred of Dash is his way of coping with the loss, but knowing that no matter what anyone thinks or does, Dash is gone forever. There is a supernatural horror aspect to this story, but the details of Dash’s addiction and how that along with the manner of his death affects Ruby and Everett are the powerful drive behind this tragedy.

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When Andria’s twin sister Iris overdoses on heroin in Robin Bridges’ Dreaming of Antigone, Andria can’t help but feel guilty. Born with a disorder that causes seizures, Andria had been faking one to distract her parents from Iris’s partying the night Iris died, and if they had been home instead of at the hospital with Andria, Iris might have been saved. Iris’s boyfriend Alex, who is “about as broken as they come,” is back from rehab, but Andria can’t forgive his role in encouraging Iris’s drug use, which was brought on by their stepfather’s abuse. Iris’s friends try to include Andria in their social activities, but Andria’s heart isn’t in it, and she can’t “fill the Iris-shaped hole” in their lives. Her nightmares about Iris revolve around guilt and blame, as Iris is angry with her but she can’t “hear her in my dreams because I never heard her crying out for help in real life” and she feels “like I never really knew my sister at all. And now that she’s gone, I won’t ever get the chance.” Her mother doesn’t think Andria needs counseling, however, fearing that it would be an admission of emotional weakness, but Andria knows she “can’t fix myself, not yet.” As Andria spends more time with Alex, “the boy who killed my sister,” she is forced to face her sister’s responsibility for her own behavior. “Your life was perfect before I came and turned your sister into a drug addict, right?” Alex sneers as he confronts her, and even when they discover Iris’s terrible reason for her drug use, they both know that the only thing they can do is honor her memory by keeping the girls’ stepfather from hurting more girls. Nothing will bring Iris back, but the pain of her loss and the preventability of her death continue to haunt them half a year after she is gone, as Andria tries to determine who is at fault: “Maybe we all failed her, because we didn’t know she needed help.”

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The Unlikelies by Carrie Firestone has a cute cover and a jacket blurb that focuses on the standard ‘summer before their senior year of high school’ woes: boyfriend drama and popularity concerns. What it doesn’t detail is the heroin addiction that threatens to kill one of the secondary characers. Sadie reconnects with Alice after they’ve grown apart, but has fond memories of Girl Scouting adventures with Alice and another girl, Izzy. Alice reveals that after becoming addicted to Oxy following a riding accident, Izzy has “been doing heroin pretty much every day, and it’s getting worse.” Izzy disappears when Alice threatens to tell her parents, and Sadie is stunned: “I had a vivid memory of baby-faced Izzy playing tug-of-war in her riding boots and braids at one of our jamborees. I couldn’t believe she was doing heroin.” Alice’s texts to Sadie detail Alice’s fears as Izzy gets worse: “At the hospital. Izzy might be dead. Please come” and later, she asks, “Who overdoses on a Tuesday afternoon?” Alice feels guilty about “allowing” Izzy to disappear, about “letting go away with that hideous dealer,” and is understandably furious with Izzy’s parents, who are so disconnected from their daughter that they don’t realize that she is using until the overdose. “This is hell. Some guy she’s sleeping with called 911 when she turned gray and her lips went blue and she choked on her own vomit . . . I can’t even tell you what it has been like to deal with my best friend nodding off, trying to score smack all day, stealing money from my car, lying, smelling like shit because she never showers. It’s hell.” The group of friends make a dangerous visit to a trap house looking for Izzy, as Alice bluntly reveals that Izzy is probably having sex with whomever will give her heroin. The story concludes with Izzy in rehab in another state, with no clear hope that she will get better, especially since her parents are still in denial and are shamed by the gossip that Izzy’s sexual and addictive behaviors have garnered in the community. Sadie’s heart aches for Alice and Izzy, but how can Alice move on with her life knowing that Izzy is still at risk?

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Kayla is a popular and athletic honor student, so when her boyfriend and best friends find her dead of a heroin overdose days before their senior year begins in Cecily Wolfe’s That Night, they are stunned and heartbroken. Some of their classmates are kind, but others are judgmental, and as texts roll in on Cassidy and Sarah’s phones, they discover that not everyone is sympathetic to their loss. What about other teens who have died of drug overdoses, some texts ask. Why didn’t they get any attention? Cass and Sarah have never heard of anyone else dying in this way in their town, but soon they realize that Kayla’s status and background make her stand out as someone worthy of mourning, unlike teens in rougher neighborhoods where the community has come to accept the losses as part of life. Both girls feel guilty, believing that they could have prevented Kayla’s death, as Kayla’s failed attempts to get help from her parents and doctors after a sports injury left her in constant pain and open to self-medicating. A soccer teammate refers to Kayla as a “junkie” during calling hours at the funeral home, and a normally quiet Sarah attacks her, because “Kayla was gone and there was nothing else she could do for her but fight.” Adults tell them to “get on with your life” but their insensitivity reflects the way Kayla’s problems were treated as insignificant while she was alive. Cassidy and Sarah decide that in honor of Kayla, they can bring attention to the kids who are dying without being noticed, to “give them a voice” and start focusing on bringing a stop to heroin availability in their community: “Why the hell did she do it? What would make a girl like Kayla want to, even once? If someone like Kayla could do it, that meant a lot of kids could, kids no one would ever think would use.” Finding Kayla unresponsive at the party, holding her “limp hand between her two, as if she could warm Kayla’s heart through her fingers,” is a memory that Sarah, who had held Kayla while Paul tried to revive her and Cassidy called 911, and the others will carry with them the rest of their lives, but their guilt and questions can’t change the reality of her death.

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Lo’s brother Oren has been her saving grace her whole life in Kate Ellison’s The Butterfly Clues, as the childhood onset of obsessive compulsive behaviors and constant moves because of their father’s job make it difficult to find friends. His death from a heroin overdose a year earlier exacerbated her behaviors, and her parents have abandoned her, her mother confined to sleeping in her room and her father to his work. She wears her brother’s shirt and dreams of Oren sitting on his grave, begging her to help him, asking her why she left him. Lo wonders if Oren “thought he was missed, as he eased down the gradual slop of his slipping away from us, from everything, into nothing” or did he think she didn’t care? Once Oren had saved her from drowning in a creek, but she couldn’t save him, and her guilt is crushing: “I wonder if Oren thought we didn’t care. It’s probably why he didn’t come back, why he ended up rotted away in some abandoned building somewhere.” If he was there with her now, she would never let him go again. Her dreams are full of Oren calling to her, her bright beautiful brother who had been “so close. Just a couple of miles away. And we sat, waiting, doing nothing, while he fell apart, disintegrated.” He wasn’t found until he had been dead a week, and the details of what remained are horrifying: “The only thing left after his skin melted off in that apartment where he died, all alone” were his teeth. Her own memories of him the last time she saw him are haunted by how skinny he was, how “his eyes were ringed with purplish disks, his hands shaking” and she wonders if he knew that he was leaving her forever. Her father hates her compulsive behaviors and just wants her to be “normal” but he eventually comes to realize how his expectations and the way he and Lo’s mother have been dealing with their own grief is hurting Lo. Whatever changes are on the horizon for her family, Lo holds “every single moment I ever had with him” close: “I have them all – folded into a million messy drawers in my brain; they belong to me, my dowry, my heritage.”

What do these novels have in common that make the stories stand out from others about death and mourning, speaking to the difference of experience these teen characters have by losing someone to a heroin overdose?

The details of the manner of death. The horror. It’s real, it’s honest, it’s heartbreaking.

The shame. The guilt. The questions. The big WHY? Why did he or she use? Why didn’t I know? Why couldn’t I stop it from happening?

The blame game. Was it he dealer? The loved one? The drug? Yourself?

The judgment. The shame. The defensiveness. The contradictory feelings that fight a weary, unwinnable battle in your heart.

As heroin continues to add to its death toll in my state and many others, those of us who serve and support young people will need more of these stories to help them cope with the realities they face, as well as to show them the devastating effects this drug has on users and those who love them.

Meet Our Guest Blogger

Kerry Sutherland is the young adult librarian at the Ellet branch of the Akron-Summit County Public Library in Akron, Ohio. She has a PhD in American literature from Kent State University, along with a MLIS from the same. She reviews middle grade and young adult fiction and nonfiction for School Library Journal, and is a published author of short fiction, novels, poetry, professional and academic work. She loves cats, Shadowhunters, Henry James, anime, and NASCAR.

Twitter: @catfriends

Instagram: @superpurry

Sunday Reflections: When the Opioid Crisis Hits the Library

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Like many libraries across the country, we talk frequently at mine about the opioid crisis happening across the U.S. and in our local communities. We have had a couple of people OD in our library and we have had to call the squad, but not nearly as much as other libraries have. We have also had to call the police for suspected dealing.

YA titles dealing with the topic of addiction

YA titles dealing with the topic of addiction

As a librarian, I have been trying to use my research ninja skills to find some concrete statistics about how bad, exactly, the epidemic is, but good stats are surprisingly hard to find. A law enforcement officer in another Ohio community I used to live said that community has about 10 overdoses (without death) a day. I hear the one I work in has one a day. Several counties in Ohio have high national ranking for how bad the crisis is in that area.

Opioid Epidemic: A State by State Look at a National Crisis

Opioid Addiction 2016 Facts & Figures – American Society of Addiction

About the Epidemic | HHS.gov

Understanding the Epidemic | Drug Overdose | CDC Injury Center

Responding to the Opioid Morbidity and Mortality Crisis – FDA

Ohio has also been in the news as many communities wrestle with how to respond to the crisis. A local sheriff refuses to allow his men to carry and administer a life saving drug while in Philadelphia these librarians carry and administer that very same drug. Part of the debate surrounding who, if anyone, should be saved, is this idea that drug addiction is a moral personal failing as opposed to a disease. Whether or not you think we should work to save the lives of and treat or incarcerate the victims of overdoses depends on your view of what, exactly, addiction is and how it happens.

The Neurobiology of Opioid Dependence: Implications for Treatment

Big mystery: What causes addiction? | NBC News

Addiction vs Physical Dependence – Important distinction – NAABT

My community has put together a task force who recently did a series of community training sessions about the topic of the opioid crisis and its impact on our local community. While at this training I met the parents of a young man in his twenties who had died from an overdose. He was a college educated man who wore a suit every day to his very successful job. He looked nothing like the pictures of what an addict looks like that the officers were sharing and they were there in part to dispel that myth. As the opioid crisis worsens, our understanding of seems to shift.

real talk addiction brochure 2

real talk addiction brochure 1

At the training I learned a variety of equally horrifying and interesting facts. Much of the drug trafficking in our community occurs via bicycle because it is easier to evade the police. Some drugs are made in Gatorade and water bottles which can explode if touched so we should teach our children not to be good environmental citizens and pick up said bottles to place them in the trash but to avoid them and call the police, just in case. Something like 95% of all local crime can be linked back to the opioid epidemic as people become violent, or engage in various petty crimes to steal money to fuel their addiction. This epidemic is severely impacting and taxing local communities at all levels, whether it be emergency responders or its impact on our children.

The opioid crisis is straining the nation’s foster-care systems

It’s important for us to remember that there are real people being impacted by the opioid crisis. One of my regular teens recently shared that she watched her mother overdose on the front lawn. She called for help and her mother was then in a treatment center. This was my teen, a girl I have watched grow up, sharing this heartbreaking story of watching her mother overdose on the lawn.

This is a great YA title on addiction (alcohol addiction)

This is a great YA title on addiction (alcohol addiction)

We talk frequently about the best policies and procedures going forward for our library in the midst of this epidemic. A library I worked at previously recently put in a sharps disposal box in the restrooms as an employee had been stabbed by a needle and they wanted to prevent it from happening in the future. We have discussed things likes narcan (we do not have this on hand primarily due to cost and concerns about life saving responsibilities), when to call the police, how to respond if we see someone using or dealing, how to dispose of drugs we find left in the bathroom and more. It’s an ongoing discussion, and one I have never had in my twenty-three plus years of working in libraries. And yet here we are.

Like many libraries and many people, I find myself wrestling with this information on a daily basis. I certainly don’t have any answers, but I think we should be talking about it more. I can’t help but think of what happens to this generation of children moving forward. When we start using words like crisis and epidemic, it’s past time to start acting.