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Take 5: The Last 5 Best YA Books I Read in 2020, YA fiction round 2

We started with YA. Last week I dove into nonfiction. Last week was all about Middle Grade. And today we end where we began, with another round of Teen/Young Adult fiction.

The Burning by Laura Bates

Publisher’s Book Description:

An Amazon Best Book of the Month!

What happens when you can’t run or hide from a mistake that goes viral?

This powerful young adult novel by the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project is a necessary book every young adult needs.

A rumor is like fire. And a fire that spreads online… is impossible to extinguish.

New school. Check.
New town. Check.
New last name. Check.
Social media profiles? Deleted.

Anna and her mother have moved hundreds of miles to put the past behind them. Anna hopes to make a fresh start and escape the harassment she’s been subjected to. But then rumors and whispers start, and Anna tries to ignore what is happening by immersing herself in learning about Maggie, a local woman accused of witchcraft in the seventeenth century. A woman who was shamed. Silenced. And whose story has unsettling parallels to Anna’s own.

From Laura Bates, internationally renowned feminist and founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, comes a realistic fiction story for the #metoo era. It’s a powerful call to action, reminding all readers of the implications of sexism and the role we can each play in ending it.

Karen’s Thoughts: In the song Mad Woman off of the Folklore album by Taylow Swift, Swift reminds us that they use to call women who stood up for themselves mad and burn them as witches. That is an underlining theme in The Burning as well. Anna and her mother leave to start a new life and it’s clear that something has happened. Over time we learn that Anna’s dad has died and in her grief, she developed an unhealthy relationship with a boy who shares her nudes with others. Her fresh start doesn’t go well when new people find those nudes and more. At the same time, Anna is researching for a local history project and learn about a historical woman in her new town who was burned for being a witch because she had a child out of wedlock. There is a lot going on in this book: mothers and daugthers, friendships, social media, feminism and more. But it’s all woven together in a really solid story that made me rage and then rejoice.

Bent Heavens by Daniel Kraus

Publisher’s Book Description:

Liv Fleming’s father went missing more than two years ago, not long after he claimed to have been abducted by aliens. Liv has long accepted that he’s dead, though that doesn’t mean she has given up their traditions. Every Sunday, she and her lifelong friend Doug Monk trudge through the woods to check the traps Lee left behind, traps he set to catch the aliens he so desperately believed were after him.

But Liv is done with childhood fantasies. Done pretending she believes her father’s absurd theories. Done going through the motions for Doug’s sake. However, on the very day she chooses to destroy the traps, she discovers in one of them a creature so inhuman it can only be one thing. In that moment, she’s faced with a painful realization: her dad was telling the truth. And no one believed him.

Now, she and Doug have a choice to make. They can turn the alien over to the authorities…or they can take matters into their own hands.

Karen’s Thoughts: Why do seemingly good people engage in horrific acts of violence? This is one of the main questions that Kraus tackles in this ultra violent novel that explores the depth of grief and loss and mixing in a bit of psychological manipulation and toxic masculinity. Nothing is ever as it seems in Bent Heavens and then there a mindblowing twist that turns everything on its head.

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

Publisher’s Book Description:

Liz Lighty has always believed she’s too black, too poor, too awkward to shine in her small, rich, prom-obsessed midwestern town. But it’s okay — Liz has a plan that will get her out of Campbell, Indiana, forever: attend the uber-elite Pennington College, play in their world-famous orchestra, and become a doctor.

But when the financial aid she was counting on unexpectedly falls through, Liz’s plans come crashing down . . . until she’s reminded of her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen. There’s nothing Liz wants to do less than endure a gauntlet of social media trolls, catty competitors, and humiliating public events, but despite her devastating fear of the spotlight she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get to Pennington.

The only thing that makes it halfway bearable is the new girl in school, Mack. She’s smart, funny, and just as much of an outsider as Liz. But Mack is also in the running for queen. Will falling for the competition keep Liz from her dreams . . . or make them come true?

Karen’s Thoughts: The prom novel is a tried and true staple of teen/young adult fiction. And here we get a joyful prom novel starring a Black main character that will make you laugh, make you cry, and warm your cold, dead 2020 heart. It’s everything you want in a ya novel and more.

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Publisher’s Book Description:

From award-winning, bestselling author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five comes a powerful YA novel in verse about a boy who is wrongfully incarcerated. Perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds, Walter Dean Myers, and Elizabeth Acevedo.

The story that I thought

was my life

didn’t start on the day

I was born


Amal Shahid has always been an artist and a poet. But even in a diverse art school, he’s seen as disruptive and unmotivated by a biased system. Then one fateful night, an altercation in a gentrifying neighborhood escalates into tragedy. “Boys just being boys” turns out to be true only when those boys are white.

The story that I think

will be my life

starts today


Suddenly, at just sixteen years old, Amal’s bright future is upended: he is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sent to prison. Despair and rage almost sink him until he turns to the refuge of his words, his art. This never should have been his story. But can he change it?

With spellbinding lyricism, award-winning author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam tell a moving and deeply profound story about how one boy is able to maintain his humanity and fight for the truth, in a system designed to strip him of both.

Karen’s Thoughts: A moving look at contemporary issues regarding systemic racism and the criminal justice system by someone who all too sadly knows about it from personal experience. Told in verse, this is such a moving and uncomfortable read. I love that it demonstrates the healing and expressive power of art while taking us on this journey. Like some of the best books out there, it takes an uncomfortable look at hard truths and it’s not always an easy read, but it’s a moving and necessary one.

We Are Not from Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez

Publisher’s Book Description:

A ripped-from-the-headlines novel of desperation, escape, and survival across the U.S.-Mexico border.

Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña have no false illusions about the town they’ve grown up in and the dangers that surround them. Though their families–both biological and found–create a warm community for them, threats lurk around every corner. And when those threats become all too real, the three teens know they have no choice but to run: for the border, for the hope of freedom, and for their very lives.

Crossing from Guatemala through Mexico with their eyes on the U.S. border, they follow the route of La Bestia, a system of trains that promise the hope of freedom–if they are lucky enough to survive the harrowing journey. With nothing but the bags on their backs and the desperation that courses through their very veins, Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña know that there’s no turning back, dangerous though the road ahead might be.

In this powerful story inspired by real–and current–events, the plight at our southern border is brought to painful, poignant life.

Karen’s Thoughts: Jenny Torres Sanchez is one of the best authors you’re probably not reading and this book is hands down her best one yet. It’s a ripped from the headlines Own Voices story about a group of teens fleeing Guatemala and trying to get to the sanctuary of the United States. We start out with an in depth look at their lives at home, to get an idea of what, exactly, they are fleeing and then take the harsh journey with them. This is such a painful book to read, and terrifying in its stark depiction of real life for so many, which is why it’s one of the best and most important books of our time. Well written, moving, and sadly necessary for our current times, everyone should read this book.

And there you have it, 20 of the best books I read in 2020. What do you think of my list? What books are on yours? Let’s talk about it in the comment.

An Open Letter to the Middleton School District from Authors in the Latinx in Kidlit Community

Last week we learned that educators from the Middleton Heights Elementary School had celebrated Halloween by dressing up as the border wall and in racist stereotypes.  Images were shared far and wide on social media. If you aren’t familiar with the incident, you can find some information about it here:

https://www.idahostatesman.com/news/local/education/article221015995.html

Over the weekend, I was approached by one of my favorite authors, Jenny Torres Sanchez, and asked if TLT could post the following open letter to the Middleton School District in hopes that members of the Latinx authors in the Kidlit community could make an attempt to counter the hate that was on display last week in this school district. We at Teen Librarian Toolbox are happy to post this open letter and hope that you will all read and share it widely. The best way to counter hate and bias is by speaking love, and these authors are offering to do just that. I sincerely hope that the Middleton Heights School District will take these authors up on their generous offer in an effort to undo the damage that these teachers have done to children who are developing their view of self and others and their place in our world.

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Superintendent of Schools

Middleton School District

5 South Viking Avenue

Middleton, ID 83644

 

November 5, 2018

Dear Superintendent,

We are a group of award-winning Latinx children’s and young adult authors. We are writing to you to express our love and concern for the children of Middleton Heights Elementary School. While we are disheartened and dismayed by the decision of staff to wear offensive and racist Halloween costumes, we are also writing to extend a generous offer, an offer of compassion that we hope you will see it in your heart to accept.

Children, their welfare, their education, and the shaping of the world, is our business. Many of us are or were educators in addition to being authors for children and young adults. To hear that the children at Middleton Heights Elementary School were subjected to this offensive behavior by the very people they trust and look to for education and guidance was beyond disappointing. And we feel such a drastic offence requires drastic measures to remedy.

While your teachers should know better, their actions show they do not. While we question their intentions at wearing such, in your words, “clearly insensitive and inappropriate” costumes, we are willing to accept your conclusion that they had no “malicious intent.” However, their poor decisions also clearly embraced close-minded and hateful thinking. And worse, modeled it for young impressionable minds.

All of your students deserve better than this. We are sure this was painful and confusing for many of them, and especially for Latinx students. Not only are they subjected to this kind of thinking outside of their school, but now within their school too, a place where they should feel secure and loved. Not excluded.

We take you at your word that you would like to learn from this and change. In that spirit, we would like to help you.

We are extending an offer to visit your school. We would like to talk to your students and staff about the richness of our culture. To show a positive and realistic representation of the very people this costume depicts as one-dimensional beings and implies should be kept out. To show that there is no danger in opening our hearts and minds to ALL people and displaying empathy and love to all mankind.

To this end, we propose a school visit where we will:

  1. Give a presentation to a general assembly where we will give motivational speeches to inspire students to accept, love, and respect each other as we build community in our country.
  2. Read excerpts from our books—books which we created to help children understand and treat others with love and compassion.
  3. Speak to and support your faculty and staff in a meet and greet apart from the general assembly.
  4. Bring and donate books by Latinx authors to enhance your classroom and school libraries.

We implore you to take us up on our offer. We are eager to visit your school and hope you will welcome us.

 

Most sincerely,

Jenny Torres Sanchez

Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Angela Cervantes

Reyna Grande

Erika L. Sanchez

David Bowles

Diana Lopez

Carmen Tafolla

Jennifer Cervantes

Isabel Quintero

Lulu Delacre

Yamile Mendez

Christina Diaz Gonzalez

Xelena Gonzalez

Lilliam Rivera

Lidia Gil

Pablo Cartaya

Celia Perez

Meg Medina

Aida Salazar

Hilda Burgos

Emma Otheguy

Anna Meriano

Debbie Reed Fischer

Julissa Arce

Full Circle Literary Agency

The Long Term Effects of Childhood Trauma and THE FALL OF INNOCENCE BY Jenny Torres Sanchez

Earlier this week, Junot Diaz wrote one of the most compelling and heartbreaking looks at the long term effects of childhood trauma in a personal essay for the New Yorker. In it, he discusses being raped at the age of 8 and how that trauma played out over and over again into his adult life and affected his mental health, his ability to form meaningful relationships, and his ability to maintain a solid career. If you haven’t yet read it, I highly recommend that you do so now.

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As I read an early ARC of THE FALL OF INNOCENCE by Jenny Torres Sanchez earlier this year, I was equally moved by how Sanchez takes on the the long term effects of childhood trauma. From school shootings, domestic violence, parental loss and natural disasters, our children are effected many ways by childhood trauma. My children were forced to flee their home in the midst of dangerous flooding in the early morning hours and it effected every aspect of our lives. There were not only those moments of terror as we waded through waist deep raging waters to get to higher ground and safety, but the many months afterwards where we had to clean up and rebuild our lives. It has been seven years since that natural disaster and to this day we still have moments where we remember something that we lost in that flood. And in many ways that flood was nothing compared to the trauma many of our children are facing.

As a victim myself of repeated childhood sexual violence in the 8th grade, I am all too well aware of how long that trauma can effect you, how difficult it is to overcome it, and how even more than 30 years later the most innocent of moments can trigger you. We owe it to our children and to the health and well being of the human race to do more to protect and preserve our children and to address that various ways in which trauma can impact their lives.

How Childhood Trauma Can Affect Your Long-Term Health

The Fall of Innocence in particular takes on the topic of violence. The main character, Emilia Dejesus, is the victim of violence by a stranger near her elementary school at a young age. Fast forward to the future, now in high school, Emilia believes she is doing okay, until triggering events occur that remind her of that trauma. It effects her relationship with her boyfriend, her ability to be intimate, her sense of self and safety in the world. But that’s not all it effects, as it effects everyone around her. Her brother, her parents, and even her boyfriend can not escape the tentacles of consequence that radiate out from that traumatic moment in her life. Every individual caught within the radius of her life is impacted by that trauma, because we do not suffer in isolation.

Childhood Trauma : Long-Term Effects and Symptoms

What follows is Emilia’s unraveling, which the reader is invited to experience intimately through this gut wrenching and emotional tale. There is no happy ending here, as there often isn’t when a child suffers trauma that haunts them throughout their life. Addiction, mental health issues, ability to form meaningful attachments, self-doubt and self-sabotage, these are just a few of the long term effects that can be traced back to childhood trauma. When looking at the data, one can’t help but notice that there are a high number of sexual abuse victims that populate our prisons, especially our female prisons. And today we know that 1 in 4 adults are facing a mental health crisis at the same time that over 100 people die a day in our country as part of the opioid epidemic. It is important, I think, that we began to really examine how childhood trauma really impacts not only our children, but the adults they will become.

The Long-Term Effects of Childhood Sexual Abuse

The Fall of Innocence is hands down a must read book for every man, woman, and teen. It uses the gift of storytelling to help us examine the long term effects of childhood trauma and asks us to start a conversation that we need to be having. It pulls no punches as it dives in deep to the emotional wreckage of a life left in ruins. You will sob. The Teen also read this book but she had to take some breaks in between readings to read something that she found more uplifting to help break up the emotional intensity. In the end, she came to me and we talked a lot about this book. I will talk a lot about this book for the rest of my life as not only is it moving and haunting, but it is necessary and relevant. This is a topic we should be talking about more prolifically and I’m thankful that Sanchez did the hard work of setting this story to page, and she did so quite well indeed.

Complex trauma: how abuse and neglect can have life-long effects

Publisher’s Book Description:

For the past eight years, sixteen-year-old Emilia DeJesus has done her best to move on from the traumatic attack she suffered in the woods behind her elementary school. She’s forced down the memories–the feeling of the twigs cracking beneath her, choking on her own blood, unable to scream. Most of all, she’s tried to forget about Jeremy Lance, the boy responsible, the boy who caused her such pain. Emilia believes that the crows who watched over her that day, who helped her survive, are still on her side, encouraging her to live fully. And with the love and support of her mother, brother, and her caring boyfriend, Emilia is doing just that.

But when a startling discovery about her attacker’s identity comes to light, and the memories of that day break through the mental box in which she’d shut them away, Emilia is forced to confront her new reality and make sense of shifting truths about her past, her family, and herself.

Will be published June, 2018 from Philomel Books

Book Review: Because of the Sun by Jenny Torres Sanchez

Jenny Torres Sanchez is one of those writers I wish more people knew about. Her previous novel, DEATH, DICKINSON AND THE DEMENTED LIFE OF FRENCHIE GARCIA was a somber and reflective look at life and loss after the boy that Frenchie has a crush on commits suicide. If you haven’t already read it, I highly recommend you go and read it.

becauseofthesun

Tomorrow, BECAUSE OF THE SUN comes out. The book begins with a bear attack in Florida. It is here that our main character, Dani, loses her mother. She is soon shipped off to live with an aunt that she doesn’t really know. She also bonds with the book The Stranger by Albert Camus. The book – and new relationships – lead Dani on a deeply emotional journey.

This is another profound, somber and reflective look. Not so much at death, but at life. At what we think we know about the people closest to us and how even then, everyone holds parts of themselves in secret. It’s about finding love, in yourself and in family. It’s about healing and forgiveness.

This book is moving and beautiful. This book will gut you, but it will also give you hope in our ability to grow and our capacity for love.

Publisher’s Book Description:

From the backyards of suburban Florida to the parched desert of New Mexico, Because of the Sun explores the complexity of family, the saving grace of friendship, and the healing that can begin when the truth is brought to light.

Dani learned to tolerate her existence in suburban Florida with her brash and seemingly unloving mother by embracing the philosophy Why care? It will only hurt. So when her mother is killed in a sudden and violent manner, Dani goes into an even deeper protection mode, total numbness. It’s the only way she can go on.