Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Anger, inspiration, and the stories we tell, a guest post by Marieke Nijkamp

before iBefore I Let Go tells the story of two girls in the arctic heart of Alaska. Two girls who were best friends, who were discovering who they could be, who were each other’s center of gravity. It tells of  grief and ice, of mystery and mental illness.

And it was, at least in part, born out of anger.

Anger is good writing fuel for me. Anger and questions. It’s where most of my story ideas start. Of course, for an idea to grow into a book, it needs far more than just a spark. It needs characters to carry it, a plot to move it forward, and beautiful Alaskan settings. Oh, how I love playing with winter.

But it started with a spark of anger.

The source of that anger? Inspiration porn. A specific instance… or ten or twenty.

If you don’t know what inspiration porn is, the late, great Stella Young defined it as such in her absolute spectacular Ted talk I’m not your inspiration, thank you very much: the act of objectifying disabled people for the benefit of nondisabled people.

It’s posters of disabled athletes with the slogan “The only disability is a bad attitude.” It’s describing disabled people as courageous simply for living. It’s quite literally describing us as inspirational.

I don’t know anyone with a disability—especially those of us who use assistive devices or are visibly disabled—who hasn’t at some point in their life had strangers come up to them to tell them how brave they are. I don’t know anyone with a disability who hasn’t at some point in their life had strangers come up to them to say, “I can’t imagine living like that, but you’re really inspiring to me.” Or, “I wasn’t feeling well today, but then I thought of you and how much worse you have it, and I pushed through.”

It happens countless times.

At the core of it is this strange idea that living with disability is either so remarkable or so terrible that the sheer act of existing is to be applauded. (And that we only exist for the benefit of nondisabled people.)

Now, on the surface, inspiration porn may seem relatively benign. Sure, it’s objectifying, but inspiration is a good thing, isn’t it?

Let’s set aside that objectifying and othering means not valuing us, means denying us accessibility, means hindering our quest toward equality.

Sometimes, it goes beyond even that. When there’s a very specific variation to the theme: when a disabled person’s death exists to inspire nondisabled people in life.

This particular version is often used specifically in the context of (romanticizing) mental illness and suicidal ideation, though there are also ample examples of it being used in broader disability representation.

And honestly, I’ve seen one too many portrayals of dead disabled characters whose death is turned into a teachable moment instead of a tragedy. Or, a flawed reminder to “make the most” out of life. And it always keeps the focus on nondisabled people.

That’s what sparked Before I Let Go. I wanted to write a book that examined and would be conversation with inspiration porn. Sure, it’s a murder mystery too. And a story of friendship and responsibility and how even the best intentions can be harmful. But Kyra’s death at the start of the book is unequivocally a tragedy.

She deserved so much more. And that’s where we start.

 

Meet Marieke Nijkamp

Credit: Karin Nijkamp

Credit: Karin Nijkamp

Marieke Nijkamp was born and raised in the Netherlands. A lifelong student of stories, language, and ideas, she spends as much time in fictional worlds as she does the real world. She loves to travel, roll dice, and daydream.

Marieke’s debut young adult novel, This Is Where It Ends, follows four teens during the fifty-four minutes of a school shooting. Her sophomore novel, Before I Let Goa haunting young adult murder mystery set during a cruel Alaskan winter, is out now.

For more information about Marieke, visit Twitter, TumblrInstagram, and her website.

Crossover Fiction Gets Parents and Teens Talking, a guest post by Lynne Griffin

GirlSentAwayDecades of research show that when parents and teachers partner together around social-emotional learning, teens are better positioned to reach their greatest potential as healthy, active members of the community. Theres simply no doubt that this kind of involvement is directly linked to teens having higher self-confidence and more positive attitudes toward school and home. From better attendance, higher grades, and higher graduation rates, to increases in prosocial behavior and decreases in problem behaviors, the most consistent predictor of high academic achievement and positive social adjustment for teens is engaged parents and teachers.

Numerous studies also confirm what every reader already knows—that the novel is an incomparable vehicle for the exploration of human social and emotional life. Literary critics and philosophers have long advanced the notion that one of fictions main jobs is to raise social consciousness.

 

The Power of Fiction to Teach

When teachers, parents and teens come together to deepen their understanding of our collective emotional livesusing fictionthey positively impact the development of the core competencies of social-emotional development, which include nurturing self and social awareness, developing relationship skills, and influencing responsible decision-making.

Despite biological predispositions to conditions like anxiety or depression, it is resiliency skills that help protect teens from various mental health conditions.  And if you or someone you care about has an existing mental health condition, then building resilience is crucial to improving ones ability to cope.

Using a conversation-based approach to discuss fiction, teens are afforded a safe space to learn about preventive mental health and capitalize on personal strengths for building resilience and navigating complex social relationships.

 

Crossover Fiction Gets Parents and Teens Talking

Some within publishing deem a novel crossoverwhen it is written for young adults but attracts a healthy adult audience. Othersmostly in the fields of public relations and marketingconsider a novel crossoverwhen it is written for adults but young adults read and spread the word about it. Regardless of which direction interest first flows, crossover fiction serves a powerful purpose, which is to get parents and teens reading and talking about meaningful text together.

Participation in conversations using high interest fiction, allows parents, teachers, and teens to:

  • discuss risk and protective factors for mental illness
  • develop resiliency skills that promote emotional well-being
  • demonstrate perspective-taking and conflict management skills
  • express empathy toward others
  • practice interpersonal communication skills

 

Your Book Discussion Group

GSA-companion-cover copyDue to the sensitive nature of the types of books that can have the greatest impact on raising social awareness and reducing stigma, its important to prepare the environment, making it conducive to sharing and learning. Thoughtful, respectful conversation is more likely to occur if teachers and parents create emotional safety zones in advance of book discussions.

  • Create ground rules and goals, either by utilizing a planning committee or taking the first few minutes of each meeting to agree on participation expectations.
  • Consider coaching teens to co-lead the discussion with agreed upon ground rules and partnerships with parents and/or teachers.
  • At every meeting, ensure confidentiality and find ways to establish a sense of closeness among teens, teachers, and parents by aligning interests.
  • Choose books wisely by outlining group goals in advance and then selecting titles that support certain kinds of discussions.
  • Keep discussions focused on characters and their wants, needs, and choices. Revisit ground rules if conversations become too personal.
  • Extend the learning beyond the group by identifying activities that parents, teachers, and teens can engage in to keep conversations going.

 

The best fiction illuminates the human condition and gives readers much to reflect on and discuss. By harnessing the power of storytellinginformed by research on social-emotional learning and effective communicationteachers, parents, teens can engage in conversations about mental health and emotional well-being, with the goal of building empathy, nurturing perspective-taking, and strengthening resilience.

 

 

Titles to Consider:

Stories written for teens with crossover to adults:

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (Friendship, Diversity)

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer (Mental illness, grief)

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin (Loss, loyalty)

 

Stories written for adults with crossover appeal to young adults:

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart (Technology, Relationships)

Disgruntled by Asali Solomon (Belonging, Diversity)

Once Upon a River Bonnie Campbell (Independence, courage)

 

Meet Lynne Griffin

IMG_9464 webLynne Reeves Griffin RN, MEd is the author of the family-focused novels Girl Sent Away, Sea Escape and Life Without Summer, and the nonfiction guides, Lets Talk About ItAdolescent Mental Health and Negotiation Generation. Kirkus Reviews says about Girl Sent Away,With its young heroine and sensitive examination of adolescents in crisis, [Girl Sent Away] would do well to also find a teen audience.

Follow Lynne at her website LynneGriffin.com and on twitter @Lynne_Griffin.