Teen Librarian Toolbox
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Different Roles, a guest post by Claire Winn

At the peak of the young-adult vampire trend, I was getting bitten.

My senior year of high school, I landed the role of Lucy Westenra in our theater production of Dracula. In the version we produced, Lucy was the lead. I was thrilled, of course—but the initial read-through of the script left me feeling a little hollow.

My role was passive; the bulk of my scenes involved crying or being preyed upon. One particularly awkward scene required me to stare, entranced, into the stage lights as a boy from calculus class bit my neck. Other characters speculated about Lucy’s fate, and the role I’d been excited for felt a bit like a plot device.

Near the end of rehearsals, I’d sneak behind darkened set pieces to watch the show’s climax—a vampire-staking battle scene that played out in the aisles. Blood packets spurted over the stage ramps as retracting stakes hit their targets. Spotlights flickered on hissing vampires and cut to black.

It was Van Helsing who drove the story to its messy conclusion, while Dracula’s machinations wove the core conflict. Those roles, I thought, were interesting.

As a teen, I had trouble connecting with female characters in many other shows I participated in. In the Julie Andrews film “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” on which the stage show of the same name is based, the titular Millie disavows her feminism after she falls in love; at the end, she declares “I don’t want to be your equal anymore.” And the bride-napping themes of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” are well known. While I loved the passionate creativity and collaboration of the theater environment—and I made incredible memories and friends—I’d lost some of my excitement for being onstage. There were sexist themes embedded in the scripts for many major shows, and I started dreaming about how I’d write them into roles girls would want to play.

In college, on track for law school, I started writing on a whim. Science fiction and fantasy books gave me the opportunity to explore and shape worlds filled with the types of characters I wanted to see. I discovered how freeing it was to have casts with multiple women and LGBT+ characters, with a range of talents and aptitudes. Lead characters could be messier without the pressure of being the sole representative of their gender or marginalization. It became easier to make them flawed, memorable, and fully human.

One of my favorite parts of writing City of Shattered Light was the contrast between the two female leads, as well as the matriarchal crime syndicates containing a range of morally-gray and capable side characters. It’s the story of a runaway heiress discovering her strength under pressure, and relying on her wits and technical prowess in deadly situations. It’s also the story of a viciously competent smuggler girl who has hardened herself to match the world around her. And it’s ultimately about learning to break free of societal expectations and choose a home for yourself.

Media has made great strides for representation in the past decade, and I hope teens will keep seeing more characters that resonate with them—onstage, on-screen, and on the page.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Rad DeLong

Claire Winn spends her time immersed in other worlds—through LARP, video games, and the books she reads and writes. Since graduating from Northwestern University, she’s worked as a legal writer and freelance editor. Aside from writing, she builds cosplay props and battles with boffer swords. City of Shattered Light, her first novel, releases October 2021 from Flux Books.

About City of Shattered Light

As darkness closes in on the city of shattered light, an heiress and an outlaw must decide whether to fend for themselves or fight for each other.

As heiress to a powerful tech empire, seventeen-year-old Asa Almeida strives to prove she’s more than her manipulative father’s shadow. But when he uploads her rebellious sister’s mind to an experimental brain, Asa will do anything to save her sister from reprogramming—including fleeing her predetermined future with her sister’s digitized mind in tow. With a bounty on her head and a rogue AI hunting her, Asa’s getaway ship crash-lands in the worst possible place: the neon-drenched outlaw paradise, Requiem.

Gunslinging smuggler Riven Hawthorne is determined to claw her way up Requiem’s underworld hierarchy. A runaway rich girl is exactly the bounty Riven needs—until a nasty computer virus spreads in Asa’s wake, causing a citywide blackout and tech quarantine. To get the payout for Asa and save Requiem from the monster in its circuits, Riven must team up with her captive.

Riven breaks skulls the way Asa breaks circuits, but their opponent is unlike anything they’ve ever seen. The AI exploits the girls’ darkest memories and deepest secrets, threatening to shatter the fragile alliance they’re both depending on. As one of Requiem’s 154-hour nights grows darker, the girls must decide whether to fend for themselves or fight for each other before Riven’s city and Asa’s sister are snuffed out forever.

ISBN-13: 9781635830712
Publisher: North Star Editions
Publication date: 10/19/2021
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

Book Review: The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy by Anne Ursu

Publisher’s description

From the acclaimed author of The Real Boy and The Lost Girl comes a wondrous and provocative fantasy about a kingdom beset by monsters, a mysterious school, and a girl caught in between them.

If no one notices Marya Lupu, is likely because of her brother, Luka. And that’s because of what everyone knows: that Luka is destined to become a sorcerer.

The Lupus might be from a small village far from the capital city of Illyria, but that doesn’t matter. Every young boy born in in the kingdom holds the potential for the rare ability to wield magic, to protect the country from the terrifying force known only as the Dread. 

For all the hopes the family has for Luka, no one has any for Marya, who can never seem to do anything right. But even so, no one is prepared for the day that the sorcerers finally arrive to test Luka for magical ability, and Marya makes a terrible mistake. Nor the day after, when the Lupus receive a letter from a place called Dragomir Academy—a mysterious school for wayward young girls. Girls like Marya.

Soon she is a hundred miles from home, in a strange and unfamiliar place, surrounded by girls she’s never met. Dragomir Academy promises Marya and her classmates a chance to make something of themselves in service to one of the country’s powerful sorcerers. But as they learn how to fit into a world with no place for them, they begin to discover things about the magic the men of their country wield, as well as the Dread itself—things that threaten the precarious balance upon which Illyria is built.

Amanda’s thoughts

Listen. That tweet up there should tell you everything you need. Also, 100% of the book was interesting, and yet as I read I repeatedly shouted in my head, “IT JUST GOT INTERESTING!” Because it kept getting MORE and MORE interesting. Go order this book. Now.

Marya knows her place in life. As a girl, she’s seen as a helper, a caretaker, a disappointment, and a background character in her own life. Her golden boy brother, Luka, is potentially gifted as a sorcerer and Marya is just this annoyance, this threat to perfection, this problem. Thank goodness she has Madame Bandu, a neighbor who has her watch her boys. Marya can be a “wild girl” with them, and, bonus, Madame Bandu is teaching her how to read. She’s also teaching her to question everything. From Madame Bandu, Marya learns to question the stories you’re told, question who’s telling them, who they benefit. She teaches her to see coded secrets and truths in the tapestries that record history. Marya learns that reading and learning is the best way to keep away the monsters that plague their land.

But all that learning comes to a halt when Marya is sent to a reform school, where she will get a fresh start and learn how to be a lady. And maybe, if she’s really good, she will be allowed to go work on a sorcerer’s estate in some kind of helping role! At Dragomir, Marya meets other girls who were also exiled to this school and it’s clear that the way they are “troubled” has little to do with anything serious. The girls there are sullen, awkward, haughty, inquisitive, and smart. They are too much, they are inappropriate, they are girls that no one knows what to do with. So they will learn how to behave at Dragomir. They will be cast off, isolated, broken down. After all, girls are obviously either evil or weak, and they must be reformed. They can’t be running around, thinking thoughts and being willing to run headlong into monsters!

Meanwhile, the Dread is looming, but the sorcerer assigned to their school says it’s all under control. But Marya doesn’t believe him. She starts to wonder if he’s there to protect them or to monitor them. Also, how, exactly, do these “troubled” girls pose a threat? Are they in danger or are they the danger? Why does it seem like all of the men Marya meets are lying? What’s this school really about?

By the end of the story, we see the myriad ways men fail women, the way they are cowards and liars and manipulators. We see the truth, we see the lies, we see the control, the power, and the bravery. We also see that Anne Ursu is a master storyteller (which, of course, we already know) who knows just how to skewer the patriarchy and leave readers feeling inspired by the brave actions of her characters. I could not put this book down and when I did, I felt hopeful, which is an amazing feeling to experience for even two minutes these days. A smart story about control, rebellion, story itself, and the fearsome power of girls allowed to be themselves. A great book for girls who can’t follow the rules and, better yet, don’t want to.


Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062275127
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/12/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

A Case for More Girls’ Sports Teams in YA, a guest post by Emma Kress

While sports books featuring boys have been on shelves for decades, those depicting girls as equally committed and serious about their sport could fit on a much smaller set of shelves. As an English teacher, I taught many female students who were deeply dedicated to their sports, and yet I had few books to place in their hands when they were looking for a book to act as a mirror, rather than a window.

That said, there were a few. When I first started writing Dangerous Play back in 2014, there were several wonderful books featuring sporty girls: Dairy Queen (2006), by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, remains one of my favorite books about a girl athlete; and Miranda Kenneally started publishing books about girl athletes back in 2011. But my athletic girl students wanted more.

Thankfully, this is changing.

Now, there are several wonderful books featuring devoted girl athletes. Just this year, we can add young-adult debuts like Holly Green’s In the Same Boat, Sajni Patel’s The Knockout, and Mariko Turk’s The Other Side of Perfect to our shelves. And last year, I was blown away by Yamile Saied Mendez’s Furia, Sarah Henning’s Throw Like A Girl, and Jennifer Iacopelli’s Break the Fall.

Thrillingly, there are more athletic books featuring non-binary characters too. Check out contemporary young-adult debuts The Passing Playbook, by Isaac Fitzsimmons, and May the Best Man Win, by ZR Ellor.

It’s all the more important that these feminist athletic books exist because in the past, toxic masculinity was as much a part of sports culture as cleats and sneakers. In so many movies and books, not only was there no space left on the page for the serious girl athlete, but we had to swallow casual misogyny along with our Gatorade. Thankfully, that’s changing. Still, there’s more to do.

In the future, I hope we see more books that feature not just female athletes, but diverse teams of athletic girls working together to achieve their goals. Because while the number of books about athletic girls has increased, few depict girls’ sports teams.

After having written Dangerous Play, which seeks to represent a diverse sports team environment, I think it’s safe to say choosing to focus on a single athletic girl rather than a full sports team might be a matter of writerly sanity. Dangerous Play has a 26+-person cast and phew, it was difficult to juggle that many characters let alone develop them.

And yet, I think it’s important to shine a light on the special and intense friendships that can happen on a competitive sports team, especially for girls. I can list dozens of movies that celebrate bromances on the ice, court, or field. I love sports team movies like Miracle, Remember the Titans, Hoosiers, and Friday Night Lights. I cheer louder at that final underdog victory because of those engaging friendships. But where are our movies celebrating underdog girls’ sports teams and their powerful friendships?

A League of Their Own is pretty much it. Bend It Like Beckham is wonderful, but only depicts the friendship of two members of the team. Ditto for Bring It On. And while I love A League of Their Own, it came out twenty-nine years ago. In this age of real-life GOATs (Greatest Of All Time athletes) like Simone Biles, Lindsay Vonn, Lisa Leslie, Serena Williams, and the entire US Women’s National Soccer Team we can do better. We need to do better.

Solidarity and sisterhood are critical parts of my feminism. And, while I adore a good romance, I think for most teens, romantic relationships aren’t the defining relationships of their teen years—friendships are. And friendships can be so much more complex and intense when we place them inside the pressure cooker of a competitive and grueling sport.

Athletes on school teams practice several hours every day during the season. Pre-season is filled with pick-up games, demanding tryouts, and “two-a-day” practices. Then, there are the long road trips on stinky school buses. Anyone who has participated in a school play or spent long hours in a newspaper or yearbook office knows the sort of friendships that can bloom during those endless nights. There’s something about those long hours that fosters inside jokes and shorthand slang, made-up dances and elaborate handshakes. There’s an everyday intimacy that develops: you know what someone looks like when they fail a test or forget to eat; you know how they like to sit and the words they overuse. When this shared time is over a shared passion, real intimacy and trust develop. Sports only heightens these connections. Team athletes see each other at their most physically powerful and most physically vulnerable. When they work together to beat the odds, stretch their limits, and claim that trophy, they create a world in which they are all the main characters. They create a world in which power and victory are shared.

I believe that for feminism to move forward, we must be intersectional. What better way to examine intersectional feminist friendships than through a sports team? Let’s see girls of color, trans girls, body-positive girls, queer girls, and girls from varied socio-economic, ethnic, and religious backgrounds on the same teams. If we want to see a future of greater equality and empathy, we need to give the teen girls of today books in which they see groups of diverse girls laughing together, crying together, and working together toward a common goal. If we want to see a future of greater equality and empathy, perhaps we might start by imagining worlds in which the glory is shared.

After all, girl power is best with friends.

Meet the Author

Photo credit: Erin Summerill

Emma Kress is a long-time educator and 2014 finalist for NY State Teacher of the Year. She’s a graduate of Vassar College, Columbia University’s Teachers College, and the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives with her family in Saratoga Springs, NY. Dangerous Play is her debut novel. You can find her on Twitter and TikTok @emma_kress and Instagram @kress.emma, or at www.emmakress.com

About Dangerous Play

Designer: Aurora Parlagreco; Artist: Laura Callaghan

A fierce team of girls takes back the night in this propulsive, electrifying, and high-stakes YA debut from Emma Kress

Zoe Alamandar has one goal: win the State Field Hockey Championships and earn a scholarship that will get her the hell out of Central New York. She and her co-captain Ava Cervantes have assembled a fierce team of dedicated girls who will work hard and play by the rules.

But after Zoe is sexually assaulted at a party, she finds a new goal: make sure no girl feels unsafe again. Zoe and her teammates decide to stop playing by the rules and take justice into their own hands. Soon, their suburban town has a team of superheroes meting out punishments, but one night of vigilantism may cost Zoe her team, the championship, her scholarship, and her future.

Perfect for fans who loved the female friendships of Jennifer Mathieu’s Moxie and the bite of Courtney Summer’s Sadie.

ISBN-13: 9781250750488
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Publication date: 08/03/2021
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

Book Review: Summer in the City of Roses by Michelle Ruiz Keil

Publisher’s description

Inspired by the Greek myth of Iphigenia and the Grimm fairy tale “Brother and Sister,” Michelle Ruiz Keil’s second novel follows two siblings torn apart and struggling to find each other in early ’90s Portland.

All her life, seventeen-year-old Iph has protected her sensitive younger brother, Orr. But this summer, with their mother gone at an artist residency, their father decides it’s time for fifteen-year-old Orr to toughen up at a wilderness boot camp. When their father brings Iph to a work gala in downtown Portland and breaks the news, Orr has already been sent away against his will. Furious at her father’s betrayal, Iph storms off and gets lost in the maze of Old Town. Enter George, a queer Robin Hood who swoops in on a bicycle, bow and arrow at the ready, offering Iph a place to hide out while she tracks down Orr. 

Orr, in the meantime, has escaped the camp and fallen in with The Furies, an all-girl punk band, and moves into the coat closet of their ramshackle pink house. In their first summer apart, Iph and Orr must learn to navigate their respective new spaces of music, romance, and sex-work activism—and find each other before a fantastical transformation fractures their family forever. 

Told through a lens of magical realism and steeped in myth, Summer in the City of Roses is a dazzling tale about the pain and beauty of growing up.

Amanda’s thoughts

Sometimes a book is so wonderful and lovely and alive that I almost feel angry. I feel angry that I will have to leave the world of the story eventually, that someone can write so breathtakingly beautifully, that someone’s brain was able to come up with such a strange and special story. I finished this book and thought, well, great—now what am I supposed to do with myself? I mean that in the best way. In the way that you just had a great experience, and will never experience it in that same new and amazing way, and what, I’m just supposed to pick up some other book and pretend I’m not thinking about Orr and Iph and all their new friends?!

You can read the summary up above my thoughts. I’m not going to talk about what happens other than to say I felt completely wrapped up and brought along on the adventures Orr and Iph have while apart (and eventually together) in Portland. It’s the 90s, in this book (you know–that time I was a music-obsessed punk teen, an era my brain INSISTS on thinking was maybe 10 years ago—don’t correct me). The story is full of feminism and punk rock and adventure and magic and love. There’s poetry, theater, sex workers, books, beautiful weirdos in crummy apartments, mythology, fairytales, animals, and love love love. It’s a weird, dark, happy, sad, real, fantastical story. It’s serious and upsetting and whimsical and hopeful. Just go read it. This is a standout book about runaways finding what they need in the strangest of ways. Just lovely.

Review copy (finished hardcover) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781641291712
Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 07/06/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

The Original Activists, a conversation between authors Rebecca Roberts and Lucinda Robb

Today, authors Rebecca Roberts and Lucinda Robb join us. Their new book, The Suffragist Playbook: Your Guide to Changing the World, looks back at the leaders and lessons they taught us while also looking forward to today’s your activists who are changing our present and our future.

The authors both have personal connections to activism and the women’s movement – Roberts is the daughter of journalist Cokie Roberts and granddaughter of Lindy Boggs and Robb is the daughter of Lynda Robb and the granddaughter of Lady Bird Johnson.

The Suffragist Playbook: Your Guide to Changing the World

Lucinda:  In the past few years we’ve seen a massive groundswell of people, many of them students, becoming active in Black Lives Matter, Climate Change, Me Too, Gun Control and other social causes.  Having spent the last few years writing about the tactics of the women’s suffrage movement over 100 years ago, at what point do you watch the news and think, to quote Yogi Berra, that it’s Déjà vu all over again?

Rebecca: Every day!  Especially here in Washington. Every time someone organizes a march down Pennsylvania Avenue, or protests in front of the White House, or holds the President accountable for his own quotations, or even takes an event that unfolds in unexpected ways and then milks the resulting press coverage for all it’s worth – all I can think is that the suffragists did it first. And the opposite is also true. I see contemporary activists using tools like Twitter or Instagram and just imagine what the suffragists would have been able to accomplish if they had the same access.

Lucinda:  Can’t you just picture Susan B. Anthony tweeting about getting arrested for voting in 1872? Even without social media, she still managed to get plenty of publicity at her trial. The judge told her six times to sit down and be quiet, but she wasn’t having it. You could even say she persisted. Later she wrote a book about the proceedings and for the rest of her long life, constantly reminded people she was a convicted criminal. The suffragists have so many great stories, and having spent so much time reading their speeches, petitions, letters and even their diaries, after a while you feel as if you know them personally. Almost like they are old friends you haven’t seen recently but still care about.

Rebecca: I agree – you do feel like you get to know the subjects of your research. And there are some women you come to admire, but whose literal presence you might not actually enjoy. I’m thinking of Alice Paul, who was incredibly impressive, but so single minded and evidently humorless that her company was probably a heavy lift. Whereas Doris Stevens, who wrote Jailed for Freedom, and Maude Younger, who complied the National Woman’s Party’s infamous card file, were both hilarious. What about you, is there a suffragist that you wish you could do a zoom call with?

Lucinda:  As a mom struggling with school being at home, Elizabeth Cady Stanton immediately jumps to mind. She had to juggle being one of the great writers and leaders of the suffrage movement with raising seven rowdy children. One time the older kids tied corks to the baby and threw him into the river to see if he would float – true story! There’s a letter where she complains about how difficult it is to find them good tutors and shoes that fit, and how they have to be taken to the dentist (who knew they had dentists back then?), so clearly some things never change. But in the end six of her children went to college, including both of her daughters. One of them, Harriot Stanton Blatch, followed in her mom’s footsteps and came up with the idea for suffragists to picket in front of the White House. The very first time anyone tried it! Speaking of which, have you ever done any picketing?

Becca: I have participated inprotests on behalf of women’s issues: Take Back the Night marches, the Women’s March of 2017, things like that. And I’ve been a part of many political rallies. I have never picketed literally, with a sign and everything. But I love seeing generations of women at those events, marching arm in arm, backing a cause together, even if they have differing perspectives.  What about your daughter, is she ready to take to the streets?

Lucinda: She’s 14 and mostly stuck at home for now, so she hasn’t progressed much beyond making posters, but she’s primed for when things loosen up.  She read some of our early drafts and wrote lots of useful comments in the margins with her orange sparkly gel pen (teenagers are brutally honest). Her favorite suffrage tactic, which resonates in our smartphone age, was about paying attention to how things look.  You wrote our chapter on this, do you have a favorite example?

Rebecca: Oh, there are so many. The suffragists were masters at crafting viral images. Think about Inez Milholland in the 1913 Suffrage parade, wearing a flowing white dress and starry crown as she rode a very noble looking horse. She struck such a heroic figure that her crown was the inspiration for Wonder Women years later. She looked fantastic. And that was no accident – Inez Milholland was a labor lawyer, an educated, ambitious, accomplished professional woman, at a time when that was pretty rare. But the newspaper men (and they were almost entirely men) of the time could never see past her looks. They inevitably wrote about her as “the most beautiful suffragist.” So Alice Paul, who organized that parade, figured if she put Inez in a gorgeous dress on a gorgeous horse, maybe the sexist reporters would actually take her picture and give some press attention to the suffrage cause. It totally worked – that image is still striking over 100 years later. It’s been such a joy to learn this history, but it isn’t all heroes and horses.

Lucinda: There are some ugly parts too. There was a lot of blatant racism in the suffrage movement, and a lot of voices that were ignored. Back in the late 19th century, Stanton and Anthony helped write a massive six volume history of the movement – which they donated to libraries everywhere – that almost completely left out Black suffragists. But Ida B. Wells was not someone you could dismiss. She called out white suffragists for using dangerous stereotypes about Black men and shamed the largest women’s club in America into condemning lynching.  Long before Rosa Parks, she refused to give up her seat on a segregated public train. And when white suffragists tried to push her to the back of the 1913 parade, she jumped right into the middle and marched proudly along.  She didn’t wait for permission, she did what she thought was right, just like a lot of activists do now.   

In the end, we tried not to put anyone up on a pedestal, but instead emphasized what the suffragists did that was successful, the ways they struggled, and how they managed to make big changes that still matter today.  And we hope that is what our readers learn – you don’t have to be uniquely special or even perfect to change the world, you just have to be willing to try.

Meet the authors

Rebecca Boggs Robertsis the author of Suffragists in Washington, DC: The 1913 Parade and the Fight for the Vote and Historic Congressional Cemetery. She has been many things, including a journalist, producer, tour guide, forensic anthropologist, event planner, political consultant, jazz singer, and radio talk show host. Currently she is the curator of programming at Planet Word, a museum, which opened on October 22, 2020. She lives in Washington, DC, with her husband, three sons, and a big fat dog.

Lucinda Robb was project director for Our Mothers Before Us: Women and Democracy, 1789–1920 at the Center for Legislative Archives. The project rediscovered thousands of overlooked original documents and produced a traveling exhibit and education program highlighting the role of women in American democracy. She also helped organize the National Archives’ celebration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1995. She lives in Virginia with her husband, three children, one dog, and more than five hundred PEZ dispensers.

About The Suffragist Playbook: Your Guide to Changing the World

The Suffragist Playbook: Your Guide to Changing the World

Do you have a cause you’re passionate about? Take a few tips from the suffragists, who led one of the largest and longest movements in American history.

The women’s suffrage movement was decades in the making and came with many harsh setbacks. But it resulted in a permanent victory: women’s right to vote. How did the suffragists do it? One hundred years later, an eye-opening look at their playbook shows that some of their strategies seem oddly familiar. Women’s marches at inauguration time? Check. Publicity stunts, optics, and influencers? They practically invented them. Petitions, lobbying, speeches, raising money, and writing articles? All of that, too. 

From moments of inspiration to some of the movement’s darker aspects—including the racism of some suffragist leaders, violence against picketers, and hunger strikes in jail—this clear-eyed view takes in the role of key figures: Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frances Willard, Ida B. Wells, Alice Paul, and many more. Engagingly narrated by Lucinda Robb and Rebecca Boggs Roberts, whose friendship goes back generations (to their grandmothers, Lady Bird Johnson and Lindy Boggs, and their mothers, Lynda Robb and Cokie Roberts), this unique melding of seminal history and smart tactics is sure to capture the attention of  activists-in-the-making today.

ISBN-13: 9781536210330
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication date: 10/27/2020
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Book Review: The Life and Medieval Times of Kit Sweetly by Jamie Pacton

Publisher’s description

Moxie meets A Knight’s Tale as Kit Sweetly slays sexism, bad bosses, and bad luck to become a knight at a medieval-themed restaurant.

Working as a Wench—i.e. waitress—at a cheesy medieval-themed restaurant in the Chicago suburbs, Kit Sweetly dreams of being a Knight like her brother. She has the moves, is capable on a horse, and desperately needs the raise that comes with knighthood, so she can help her mom pay the mortgage and hold a spot at her dream college.

Company policy allows only guys to be Knights. So when Kit takes her brother’s place, clobbers the Green Knight, and reveals her identity at the end of the show, she rockets into internet fame and a whole lot of trouble with the management. But this Girl Knight won’t go down without a fight. As other Wenches and cast members join her quest, a protest forms. In a joust before Castle executives, they’ll prove that gender restrictions should stay medieval—if they don’t get fired first.

Amanda’s thoughts

My reading taste really comes down to two things: show me people just talk, talk, talking OR show me something unique. A contemporary story about a girl who wants to become a knight? Now that’s unique!

There is so much to really love about this book. Kit (real name—brace yourselves—Courtney Love Sweetly) works at a medieval-themed restaurant that’s run by her uncle, but that doesn’t get her any preferential treatment. The place is not great, but Kit absolutely loves her workplace family and desperately needs the job there. She and her older brother (a knight at the restaurant) live with their mom—their dad took off a couple of years ago with all their college money to feed his heroin habit. Their family is constantly worried about money. Electricity gets shut off, there’s very little food, and everything is run-down. They all three work hard, but it’s just barely enough to keep them afloat.

Kit has very real worries about college. She has had a plan for years for herself, but now that the time for college acceptances is here, it looks like that plan isn’t doable. It’s hard to readjust your thoughts and grapple with a new reality. The money just isn’t there for her to follow the path she had long ago set for herself. I appreciate this depiction of teen life so much—a teenager with a job because it’s absolutely essential to the family’s budge, a teen making the very reasonable choice to follow a different college path due to financial reasons.

It’s not all just worries and disappointments for Kit, though. She has great support in Layla, her best friend, and Jett, her other best friend. Kit and Jett decided long ago to never date, for the sake of the friendship, but that doesn’t stop Kit from having a raging crush on him and wishing they could break that pact.

Then, of course, there’s the storyline of her wanting to become a knight. She knows she’s the right girl for the job, her corporate has made it very clear that only cis men can be knights at this restaurant. Outspoken feminist Kit is done tolerating that decree. When she fills in for her brother, Jett films it and the video begins to go viral online, giving Kit a platform to push her cause. She begins to train other friends from work (including trans and nonbinary characters), but with no corporate support and an uncle vehemently against helping her agenda, it’s uncertain whether they will even get a chance to showcase their talents even one time, much less overthrow the whole system.

I was into this story just from the very basic plot: teen girl wants to be a knight at the medieval-themed restaurant she works at. But the many layers of her life made this book so engrossing. And the wonderful (and very diverse) cast of supporting characters made this such a great workplace story, too. Kit is a badass, not just because she wants to smash the patriarchy, but because she’s juggling so much in just her day-to-day life. A great read that deserves lots of attention.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781624149528
Publisher: Page Street Publishing
Publication date: 05/05/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Book Review: The Feminist Agenda of Jemima Kincaid by Kate Hattemer

Publisher’s description

A novel about friendship, feminism, and the knotty complications of tradition and privilege, perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli and Stephanie Perkins.

Jemima Kincaid is a feminist, and she thinks you should be one, too. Her private school is laden with problematic traditions, but the worst of all is prom. The guys have all the agency; the girls have to wait around for “promposals” (she’s speaking heteronormatively because only the hetero kids even go). In Jemima’s (very opinionated) opinion, it’s positively medieval.

Then Jemima is named to Senior Triumvirate, alongside superstar athlete Andy and popular, manicured Gennifer, and the three must organize prom. Inspired by her feminist ideals and her desire to make a mark on the school, Jemima proposes a new structure. They’ll do a Last Chance Dance: every student privately submits a list of crushes to a website that pairs them with any mutual matches.

Meanwhile, Jemima finds herself embroiled in a secret romance that she craves and hates all at once. Her best friend, Jiyoon, has found romance of her own, but Jemima starts to suspect something else has caused the sudden rift between them. And is the new prom system really enough to extinguish the school’s raging dumpster fire of toxic masculinity?

Filled with Kate Hattemer’s signature banter, this is a fast-paced and thoughtful tale about the nostalgia of senior year, the muddle of modern relationships, and how to fight the patriarchy when you just might be part of the patriarchy yourself.

Amanda’s thoughts

Here’s the thing: as an adult, with lots of distance to reflect on my teenage self, there are times I see a lot of myself in a character (or a real teen, for that matter) and feel a sense of connection and nostalgia, but also feel embarrassment and frustration. Enter Jemima Kincaid, strident feminist who makes many missteps and has a lot to learn. Oh, hi there, teenager who is “different” from everyone and proudly so, who totally hates everything related to high school traditions and expectations. I see you. I feel you.

Jemima attends a private school in Virginia. She’s straight, wealthy, and a feminist. She hates the patriarchy (“chauvinistic asshattery”) but doesn’t yet think too hard about the ways she’s internalized things from it, the way she’s complicit in it. Her best friend is Jiyoon, but Jemima is not always a great friend to her, or to anyone. She’s part of the ruling body of the senior class but see’s herself as a total outsider disliked by everyone. Jemima is anti-Powederpuff, anti-prom, anti-dress code, anti-whatever-you’ve-got. She has good reasons to be against those ridiculous traditions and rules, but she’s also just against things, period. She challenges rules and traditions, looking to push boundaries and innovate wherever she can.

Jemima makes many missteps and realizes that, at times, she’s a “crappy feminist.” Jiyoon calls her out for her internalized misogyny. Jemima hooks up with a charismatic but problematic boy, someone she’s super physically into but is not the most enlightened or kind human around. Perhaps Jemima’s biggest revelation over the course of the story is her relationship to the statement “I’m not like the other girls.” What was once a badge of pride for her becomes more complicated as she begins to understand more about herself, her peers, and, yes, her internalized misogyny.

I really loved this very real and honest look at how complicated friendship, feminism, relationships, and high school can be. Full of jealousy, secrets, and conflicted feelings, this novel authentically explores the way we learn to do and be better while making many mistakes along the way. Smart and insightful.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781984849120
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 02/18/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Writing Whiteness, a guest post by Kate Hattemer

In a racial justice training I did at the school where I teach, the facilitator asked us to cast our minds back to our early understandings of race. It made me think. I’m a white woman, and despite attending an elementary school that was majority Black, I grew up barely cognizant of my whiteness. I remember being reprimanded for announcing, “I’m not wearing no coat” — that was not how we spoke — and I remember noticing that my honors classes in high school were almost all white, counter to the demographics of the school. That’s about it.

Small Kate in soccer uniform; photo credit Charlie Hattemer

Yet from an early age, I was aware I was a girl and I would be treated differently because I was a girl. I remember a kindergarten classmate shoving me up against a door to kiss me. I remember noticing that the lists of presidents and astronauts and scientists in my children’s encyclopedia were all men. In high school, when I fell deep into the world of competitive trivia games, I remember my teachers and coaches casually posing theories as to why girls weren’t fast on the buzzer. (I was fast on the buzzer.)

I have a lot of childhood memories of being oppressed. I don’t remember so well the experience of being on top.

This is common, I think, and understandable. In a weird way, it can be a whole lot more comfortable to examine ways you’ve been hurt by oppressive systems than to reckon with the ways you’ve been complicit, and perhaps still are complicit, with systems that hurt others. My whiteness informed every day of my childhood — the way I was treated by teachers and shopkeepers and passersby, the places we lived, the jobs my parents had, and on, and on, and on, in many ways I’m sure I don’t know — yet I barely knew I was white. I was just, you know. The default. Not black, not brown. I knew I was Swiss. Did that count?

Unsurprisingly, this discomfort is mirrored in children’s literature. In the past few years, as white authors have felt the need (from both the industry and our own consciences) to diversify our books, I’ve seen — and, yes, I’ve written — a familiar pattern. There’s a white protagonist (WP) who has at least one friend of color (FOC). Maybe WP visits the FOC’s house and eats some authentic kimchi or tacos, or maybe WP notes that FOC has a different hair-care routine. Or maybe WP witnesses a microaggression visited upon the FOC; the WP doesn’t understand at first, but the FOC explains, and the WP comes to a greater understanding of what it’s like for the FOC to move through the world.

I’m not saying this is a problem. It’s certainly better than all-white casts, and it’s better than the colorblind casts of math textbooks, where Latosha has to calculate the chances that the six marbles Xiyuan drew from José’s bag would all be green. But I worry it’s skipping a step. It’s eliding over the fact that white characters, too, have a race. When race is only an issue for our characters of color, the story reinforces the idea that race is not a problem for white people. Yes, white characters should see the way their friends of color deal with race, but they too need to reflect upon and reckon with their whiteness, by the way that their worldview has been unknowingly shaped by their powerful position in the structures of white supremacy.

Poster at protest; credit/caption “Our Feminism Must Be Intersectional Rally/March Pittsburgh” by feral godmother is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

Jemima Kincaid, the white, straight, and wealthy protagonist of my new novel, is a committed feminist. She believes in justice and equity. She deeply wants to change the problematic traditions and toxic masculinity that drive the culture of her private school. But Jemima has huge blind spots. Throughout the book, she works to scrape off that cruddy crust of white feminism and internalized misogyny, but it’s there, and it’s sticky. She learns some things. She remains totally clueless about others. She is eighteen years old.

I’ve learned some things too, and I know I remain totally clueless about others. So I’ll keep reading and listening. I’ll keep thinking about how my whiteness shapes my experience of the world, and I’ll keep thinking about my white characters. Do they grow? Do they learn? Do they change? I don’t believe they have to. Literature doesn’t need a moral. But I do believe that literature should be considered, every aspect of it. If we’re going to keep writing white protagonists, we need white protagonists to reckon with race — not as something they aren’t, but as something they are.

Meet Kate Hattemer

Photo credit: Emma Hattemer

Kate Hattemer is a native of Cincinnati, but now writes, reads, runs, and teaches high school in the DC metro area. She is the author of The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy, which received five starred reviews, The Land of 10,000 Madonnas, and Here Comes Trouble. Find her online at her website, www.katehattemer.com/, on Instagram @katehattemer, or on Twitter @katehattemer.

About THE FEMINIST AGENDA OF JEMIMA KINCAID

A novel about friendship, feminism, and the knotty complications of tradition and privilege, perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli and Stephanie Perkins.

Jemima Kincaid is a feminist, and she thinks you should be one, too. Her private school is laden with problematic traditions, but the worst of all is prom. The guys have all the agency; the girls have to wait around for “promposals” (she’s speaking heteronormatively because only the hetero kids even go). In Jemima’s (very opinionated) opinion, it’s positively medieval.

Then Jemima is named to Senior Triumvirate, alongside superstar athlete Andy and popular, manicured Gennifer, and the three must organize prom. Inspired by her feminist ideals and her desire to make a mark on the school, Jemima proposes a new structure. They’ll do a Last Chance Dance: every student privately submits a list of crushes to a website that pairs them with any mutual matches.

Meanwhile, Jemima finds herself embroiled in a secret romance that she craves and hates all at once. Her best friend, Jiyoon, has found romance of her own, but Jemima starts to suspect something else has caused the sudden rift between them. And is the new prom system really enough to extinguish the school’s raging dumpster fire of toxic masculinity?

Filled with Kate Hattemer’s signature banter, this is a fast-paced and thoughtful tale about the nostalgia of senior year, the muddle of modern relationships, and how to fight the patriarchy when you just might be part of the patriarchy yourself.

ISBN-13: 9781984849120
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 02/18/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Book Review: Revenge of the Red Club by Kim Harrington

Publisher’s description

A tween reporter discovers an important and beloved club at school is being shut down—and uses the power of the pen to try and activate some much-needed social change in this period-positive and empowering middle grade novel about the importance of standing up for what you believe in.

Riley Dunne loves being a member of the Red Club. It’s more than a group of girls supporting each other through Aunt Flo’s ups and downs; it’s a Hawking Middle School tradition. The club’s secret locker has an emergency stash of supplies, and the girls are always willing to lend an ear, a shoulder, or an old pair of sweatpants.

But when the school administration shuts the Red Club down because of complaints, the girls are stunned. Who would do that to them? The girls’ shock quickly turns into anger, and then they decide to get even.

But wallpapering the gym with maxi pads and making tampon crafts in art class won’t bring their club back. Only Riley can do that. Using the skills she has cultivated as her school paper’s top investigative reporter (okay, only investigative reporter), she digs for the truth about who shut the club down and why. All the while dealing with friendship drama, a new and ridiculous dress code, and a support group that is now more focused on fighting with each other than fighting back.

Can she save the Red Club before this rebellion turns into a full-scale war?

Amanda’s thoughts

My friends. MY FRIENDS. This book came out in October. I read it over the winter break after picking it up at my public library. I didn’t even take notes as I read. I figured I’d write a Post-It Note Review about it and be good. BUT. This book is SO good and SO important that I needed to give it its own space. I know we all have towering TBR stacks and endless scrolls of lists, but you really do need to find a few hours to sneak this book in. If you work in a middle school/middle school library/serve young teens, you especially need to familiarize yourself with this book. I was going to say, when I was growing up, all we had was Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret for books that talked at all about periods, but guess what? Periods are STILL so often completely ignored in books for young readers and teens. So here you go. A whole book about breaking the stigma that comes with having/acknowledging periods.

The Red Club is amazing. They support each other, provide each other with supplies and information, and work hard to normalize periods. There’s a lot more that goes on in this story—the dress code rears its ugly head, the principal demands prior review of newspaper articles (hey, I wrote my entire senior year project/paper about that very issue way back when I was a teen!), and The Red Club gets shut down. Riley and friends organize, protest, and speak up about all of these injustices and ways of shaming girls. I love the club and want it to exist in all schools. ALL schools need a locker that students can access for supplies and extra clothes. ALL schools should have this book.

ISBN-13: 9781534435728
Publisher: Aladdin
Publication date: 10/22/2019

Book Review: Watch Us Rise by Renée Watson and Ellen Hagan

Publisher’s description

watch us riseNewbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Award-winning author Renée Watson teams up with poet Ellen Hagan in this YA feminist anthem about raising your voice.

Jasmine and Chelsea are best friends on a mission–they’re sick of the way women are treated even at their progressive NYC high school, so they decide to start a Women’s Rights Club. They post their work online–poems, essays, videos of Chelsea performing her poetry, and Jasmine’s response to the racial microaggressions she experiences–and soon they go viral. But with such positive support, the club is also targeted by trolls. When things escalate in real life, the principal shuts the club down. Not willing to be silenced, Jasmine and Chelsea will risk everything for their voices–and those of other young women–to be heard.
These two dynamic, creative young women stand up and speak out in a novel that features their compelling art and poetry along with powerful personal journeys that will inspire readers and budding poets, feminists, and activists.

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

This book is so good. Order it, read it, book talk it, display it, love it.

 

Jasmine, Chelsea, and their friends attend a high school all about social justice and equity (or, allegedly it is). All students are required to be in a social justice club. But, like everywhere, their school is not perfect, with racism, sexism, and more alive and well. Jasmine and Chelsea leave their clubs to form a women’s rights club, focusing their intersectional feminism and activism on and around their lives at school. Together with their best friends Nadine and Isaac, they create art and foster conversations about many important issues. Jasmine, who is black, is a writer and an actress. Isaac, who is Puerto Rican, is a visual artist. Japanese and Lebanese Nadine is a singer and  DJ. And Irish and Italian Chelsea is a talented poet. Together, they inspire each other and help each other learn, grown, discover, and act. This book covers a lot of ground, tackling so many subjects in honest, creative, and effective ways.

 

I’m going to leave this review short and simple, because the real joy will come from reading about these smart, passionate, and motivated young people for yourself. This book is immensely readable—I burned through it in a couple of hours. Great dialogue, great writing, great poetry, great characters, great everything. It’s not often that I find a book wholly satisfying. And, even more rare, this book made me feel nostalgic for my teen years, remembering back to when I was a zine-writing young feminist and Gender and Sexuality Studies student. Empowering and inspiring, this book demands a wide readership. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781547600083
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 02/12/2019