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My Brain Doesn’t Believe in Getting Things Done, a guest post by Sangu Mandanna

My brain is, frankly, a menace. You know that friend, the one who turns up with an irresistible party invitation right when you need to finish that important piece of work? That’s my brain. It has Opinions about how I should spend my time. It doesn’t believe in Getting Things Done. It thinks I should just drop what I’m doing, no matter how important, because “ooh! Remember that book we wanted to look up? Let’s do that now!” and “oops, it’s been three hours because we fell down a rabbit hole of Random Stuff.”

To a lot of people, that sounds absurd. When they want to look that book up, they can put the thought aside until a better time. And if they do look it up, it takes them a few minutes and they go back to what they were doing. When I try to explain what my brain does, they’re confused.

“But why don’t you just ignore it?”

I only wish.

The thing about my brain is that I can’t ignore it. The part of me that controls how I make my decisions and how I act on a thought is, of course, in my brain. There’s plenty of science to explain it, but in short, my brain calls the shots and it likes its power a little too much. It’s pigheaded. It spends its time and energy on what it considers worthwhile, and nothing I or anyone else says will make a difference. It will, for example, put me at my laptop writing words for ten hours without so much as a break, but it can’t bring itself to walk down a flight of stairs and make a slice of toast.

And then there’s the other stuff. The stuff I don’t particularly like to talk about. Like when I lie awake for seven hours straight thinking of a horrific event I read in the news three years ago and, no matter what I do, I can’t make my brain switch off. Or when my friend’s cat has a cuddle on my lap and it’s lovely, but the moment I notice the cat hair on my clothes, suddenly, it’s like I can’t see or think about anything else until every single hair is gone. Or when I have to get up in the middle of the night to check that the front door is locked, even though I checked it an hour before that, and there’s no point telling myself not to do it because I’ll just end up thinking about it instead.

There are names for these conditions, but I didn’t know them for a long time. I never used to think of myself as neurodivergent or as having a mental illness. I just thought there was something wrong with me. It was a difficult thing to live with, this idea that I was somehow weak, or lazy, or just wrong in some way because I couldn’t control the way I felt or the thoughts I had. How could I not be able to tell my own brain what to do? Why couldn’t I just “get on with it” or “get a grip” like I was told to?

I know now, of course, that there’s nothing wrong with me. I am neurodivergent and I have a mental illness. My OCD, depression and anxiety may never go away, but they can be treated, and I no longer feel any sense of shame or guilt about them. As for my neurodivergence, which for me is mostly my ADHD, well, that’s something I’ve come to embrace. I used to think my brain was my enemy, but now I think of it with fond exasperation. It’s unquestionably a pest. It is. I wish it behaved better.

But I also never forget that it makes me who I am. Yes, it misbehaves, but it’s also creative, kind and brave. It gives me shelter from the real world and it gives me the stories I live to tell.

And that’s the space out of which Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom was born. Kiki, my young, creative heroine, is like me. She’s a British-Indian girl with ADHD and OCD, though she doesn’t know the words yet. She’s strong, but questions her own strength. She’s brave, but worries about big things and small things. She creates whole worlds in her sketchbook, but struggles to enjoy a simple day out with her friends because her brain has other ideas.

Then her sketchbook kingdom, a world of folklore and magic, comes to life and suddenly, Kiki has to be a hero. She doesn’t think she can do it, of course. She doesn’t think she’s strong enough or brave enough. She doesn’t think art, creativity and heart are as powerful as swords and monsters.

Spoiler: she’s wrong.

Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom is all about creativity, magic, and friendship. There’s folklore from the south of India, a warrior goddess, a talking lion, a crew of plucky rebel kids, and, above all, a heroine who finds her own unique way of fighting back. I hope Kiki’s story finds a place in the hearts of the readers who need it most.

Meet the author

Sangu Mandanna was four years old when an elephant chased her down a forest road and she decided to write her first story about it. Seventeen years and many, many manuscripts later, she signed her first book deal. She is the author of YA novels The Lost Girl, A Spark of White Fire and its sequels, and has contributed to several anthologies. She lives in Norwich, in the east of England, with her husband and kids. Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom is her first middle-grade novel.

About Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom

For fans of the Aru Shah and Serpent’s Secret series, this action-packed fantasy-adventure sees a girl’s drawings of Indian mythology spring to vivid life—including the evil god who seeks to enter the real world and destroy it.

Kiki Kallira has always been a worrier. Did she lock the front door? Is there a terrible reason her mom is late? Recently her anxiety has been getting out of control, but one thing that has always soothed her is drawing. Kiki’s sketchbook is full of fanciful doodles of the rich Indian myths and legends her mother has told her over the years. 

One day, her sketchbook’s calming effect is broken when her mythological characters begin springing to life right out of its pages. Kiki ends up falling into the mystical world she drew, which includes a lot of wonderful discoveries like the band of rebel kids who protect the kingdom, as well as not-so-great ones like the ancient deity bent on total destruction. As the one responsible for creating the evil god, Kiki must overcome her fear and anxiety to save both worlds—the real and the imagined—from his wrath. But how can a girl armed with only a pencil defeat something so powerful?

ISBN-13: 9780593206973
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 07/06/2021
Series: Kiki Kallira #1
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Book Review: We Can’t Keep Meeting Like This by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Publisher’s description

A wedding harpist disillusioned with love and a hopeless romantic cater-waiter flirt and fight their way through a summer of weddings in this effervescent romantic comedy from the acclaimed author of Today Tonight Tomorrow.

Quinn Berkowitz and Tarek Mansour’s families have been in business together for years: Quinn’s parents are wedding planners, and Tarek’s own a catering company. At the end of last summer, Quinn confessed her crush on him in the form of a rambling email—and then he left for college without a response.

Quinn has been dreading seeing him again almost as much as she dreads another summer playing the harp for her parents’ weddings. When he shows up at the first wedding of the summer, looking cuter than ever after a year apart, they clash immediately. Tarek’s always loved the grand gestures in weddings—the flashier, the better—while Quinn can’t see them as anything but fake. Even as they can’t seem to have one civil conversation, Quinn’s thrown together with Tarek wedding after wedding, from performing a daring cake rescue to filling in for a missing bridesmaid and groomsman.

Quinn can’t deny her feelings for him are still there, especially after she learns the truth about his silence, opens up about her own fears, and begins learning the art of harp-making from an enigmatic teacher.

Maybe love isn’t the enemy after all—and maybe allowing herself to fall is the most honest thing Quinn’s ever done.

Amanda’s thoughts

Rachel Lynn Solomon is an auto-read for me. Did you know she also wrote an adult book, too? Just as great as her YA. I’m glad she’s so prolific because I just adore her writing.

There is so much to like about this book. Newly graduated Quinn isn’t sure what she wants to do in college/for her grown-up life. But she does know she doesn’t want a future working for her family’s wedding planning company. She just doesn’t. But her parents have it all planned out for her—major in business, work for them, everything’s taken care of! And though Quinn doesn’t want that, she doesn’t know how to tell them that. She’s also worried that bailing on the business will upset the balance of their family and not give her the connection she loves having with her older sister.

One more summer of working weddings puts her back in the orbit of Tarek, son of the caterers who usually work with her parents. After she confessed her crush to him last year, he ghosted her, which is a pretty rotten move for a super romance-obsessed guy who loves grand gestures. Predictably, and thankfully (because they’re so cute together and their banter is A+), they get together, but it’s not smooth sailing. Quinn’s having a Big Summer. She’s grappling with what her future holds, how to please her family, the idea of her best friend moving across the country for college, and more. So dating her crush while simultaneously not believing in love or romance or relationships is… a lot.

The tension between Tarek and his belief that love is all about destiny and big gestures and “meant to be” stuff and Quinn and her totally cynical and guarded approach to relationships makes for an interesting story. As an adult, I read this thinking, “Quinn, come on. You’re doing all the relationship ‘stuff’ but are just too scared to call it that and feel the feelings!” But the teen stuck inside of me was like, “Yesss, Quinn, I feel you. Hide from those feelings. Blow things up yourself before you can get hurt or disappoint someone!” Especially because Quinn has anxiety and that good ol’ anxiety brain loves to churn everything around until everything seems fraught with peril and sure to implode.

Tarek and Quinn’s relationship has lots of ups and downs, which, again, feels so realistic and makes for a great read. They go from surface level friendship to a deeper and true friendship to so much more.

I also love how mental health is dealt with in this story. Quinn has OCD and generalized anxiety. Tarek has depression. They talk openly about medication, therapy, being diagnosed, the hard days, symptoms, and getting better. We love to see it!

Full of humor and heart and, yes, love, this is a fantastic story about being brave, being imperfect, learning, trying, changing, growing, and taking chances. An excellent look at vulnerability, trust, and self-exploration.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781534440272
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date: 06/08/2021
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years

Book Review: How to Become a Planet by Nicole Melleby

Publisher’s description

For Pluto, summer has always started with a trip to the planetarium. It’s the launch to her favorite season, which also includes visits to the boardwalk arcade, working in her mom’s pizzeria, and her best friend Meredith’s birthday party. But this summer, none of that feels possible.
 
A month before the end of the school year, Pluto’s frightened mom broke down Pluto’s bedroom door. What came next were doctor’s appointments, a diagnosis of depression, and a big black hole that still sits on Pluto’s chest, making it too hard to do anything.
 
Pluto can’t explain to her mom why she can’t do the things she used to love. And it isn’t until Pluto’s dad threatens to make her move with him to the city—where he believes his money, in particular, could help—that Pluto becomes desperate enough to do whatever it takes to be the old Pluto again.
 
She develops a plan and a checklist: If she takes her medication, if she goes to the planetarium with her mom for her birthday, if she successfully finishes her summer school work with her tutor, if she goes to Meredith’s birthday party . . . if she does all the things that “normal” Pluto would do, she can stay with her mom in Jersey. But it takes a new therapist, a new tutor, and a new (and cute) friend with a checklist and plan of her own for Pluto to learn that there is no old and new Pluto. There’s just her.
 

Amanda’s thoughts

Yes, hi, I would like to climb inside this book and hug Pluto and Fallon. Is that something someone can arrange for me?

It’s the summer after 7th grade and, for Pluto, nothing is the same as it’s always been. She’s spent the past month in bed, not going to school, and acquired a new diagnosis: depression and anxiety. She’s just started meds and will start seeing a therapist soon, but for now, it’s still very new and very awful. Melleby absolutely nails conveying to the reader the mental and physical ways mental illness can affect a person and what the symptoms can look like. Pluto is exhausted. She has brain fog, she feels weighed down, and she just doesn’t feel like herself. She just wants to be herself again.

Her new friend Fallon see’s Pluto’s list of goals for the summer (attend a birthday party, take her meds, etc) and offers to help her if Pluto will help Fallon with things on her list (cut her hair short, tell her mom she doesn’t want to wear dresses and that she maybe—sometimes—feels like a boy). It’s a rough time for Pluto to be making a new friend, as she can hardly get moving most days, but she also loves that Fallon ONLY knows this version of her, and not what she was like before her diagnosis. Pluto spends the summer working with a tutor, beginning therapy, visiting her father (and meeting his girlfriend, who has OCD), also having a terrible, terrible time trying to adjust to living with depression and anxiety. She pulls back from friends, lashes out at her mom, shuts down, rages, cries, fakes her way through things, and just feels crummy.

But.

But. There’s hope. She has the BEST supportive and loving mother. She has medication. She has a therapist. She’s getting caught up in school. She’s sort of seeing her old friends a little. And she’s realizing she gets butterflies whenever she’s around Fallon. She will be okay. Pluto learns to move beyond just wanting to be “fixed” to starting to understand that she’s still herself, no matter what is happening in her life. It’s okay to have bad days. It’s okay to not be okay. And just like with the planet she’s named after, her definition may change but her properties are still the same. She’s still Pluto.

This is a lovely, compassionate, and gentle story that’s full of love, support, hope, and honesty. An absolutely necessary addition to all collections that serve this age group.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781643750361
Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date: 05/25/2021
Age Range: 9 – 12 Years

Book Review: Thanks a Lot, Universe by Chad Lucas

Publisher’s description

A moving middle-grade debut for anyone who’s ever felt like they don’t belong

Brian has always been anxious, whether at home, or in class, or on the basketball court. His dad tries to get him to stand up for himself and his mom helps as much as she can, but after he and his brother are placed in foster care, Brian starts having panic attacks. And he doesn’t know if things will ever be “normal” again . . . Ezra’s always been popular. He’s friends with most of the kids on his basketball team—even Brian, who usually keeps to himself. But now, some of his friends have been acting differently, and Brian seems to be pulling away. Ezra wants to help, but he worries if he’s too nice to Brian, his friends will realize that he has a crush on him . . .
But when Brian and his brother run away, Ezra has no choice but to take the leap and reach out. Both boys have to decide if they’re willing to risk sharing parts of themselves they’d rather hide. But if they can be brave, they might just find the best in themselves—and each other.

Amanda’s thoughts

As you know, I get a lot of book mail here. I spend a lot of time sorting it, reading summaries, paging through to read a bit, and deciding what I want to read for potential review. I usually have a pile of “for sure read” among all my other piles, but sometimes those books sit for along time before I get to them, and then their summaries get buried under hundreds of others in my head. All of this is to say, this book has been in my “for sure read” for a while, but by the time I got to it, I didn’t remember much about why I’d pulled it. I’m so glad I DID pull it to read. It’s a really well done middle grade book about boys, friendship, families, emotions, vulnerability, trust, mistakes, coming out, and so much more. It also felt really fresh and unique, which is difficult for a book to achieve!

13-year-old Brian is quiet and anxious. He has social anxiety and, over the course of the story, also begins having panic attacks. He’s a really complicated and quietly funny kid who has some rough stuff going on at home. When we meet him, his dad has fled into hiding from the police and his mother attempts suicide with her stockpile of pills for mental health issues. She ends up in the hospital, which leaves Brian and his 9-year-old brother alone. They get put into foster care and Brian, who has been holding back so much, finally snaps. He punches his bully at school and takes off with his brother, running away and going on a small adventure while he processes what is happening in his life.

It’s from here, after these moments, that his life, while still immensely difficult and unfair, starts to be filled with love and support from all directions. One of his teachers takes in Brian and his brother, and her teenage son begins to bring Brian out of his shell as they bond over basketball, grief, loss, and more. Ezra, the other main character in this book (who also shares narration duties) has always been friendly with Brian, but makes a real effort to be there for him, standing up to the other kids who are being mean to Brian or talking trash about him, helping find him when he’s missing, and truly making Brian feel seen and supported. Ezra also has a crush on Brian and eventually confesses this to him and comes out to his friends and his sister.

The overwhelming message of this book is that it’s okay to be a mess and to cry. It’s okay to tell people you are going through hard things. It’s okay to rely on others to help you and support you. Themes of love, support, and acceptance are strong, as is the message that you are not your mistakes or bad choices. An emotional book full of heart.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781419751028
Publisher: Amulet Books
Publication date: 05/11/2021
Age Range: 10 – 14 Years

A Second Look at Second Chances, a guest post by Miel Moreland

For some people, high school is marked by grass-stained jerseys or student council budget debates. For three years, my high school experience largely centered on headsets, blocking scripts, and knowing actors’ lines better than they did. By the fall play of my junior year, I was the lead stage manager. I loved the camaraderie with the rest of the crew, the thrill of trust and responsibility that came with carrying the keys and knowing the codes, the thousand details to coordinate. The gaffer tape.

But that fall was also marked by my first bout with depression, and my anxiety—which in retrospect, had appeared throughout my childhood—surged. The high-pressure, time-consuming nature of stage managing further eroded my mental health. By the time I called the show’s final light cue, I knew something would have to give.

After the spring musical, I quit tech crew altogether. A decade on, I still believe this is one of the best decisions I have ever made, and certainly one of the most important decisions I made as a teenager.

Our culture is obsessed with perseverance. There’s nothing wrong with perseverance itself—in general, it’s an important mindset to develop—but its glorification in fact inhibits the growth it is usually intended to promote. Because when we are taught only to persevere, we are never taught when it’s actually worth quitting, and certainly not how to quit without shame. We are always supposed to overcome; we are not supposed to “let” anything else—from bigotry to our own mental health challenges—“win.”

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and I am here to say it’s okay to quit sometimes. There should not be anything shameful in shifting your priorities, especially not a shift that could bolster your well being in another area. I am here to offer the possibility that you can change your mind.

Before the main timeline of my debut, It Goes Like This, the novel’s world-famous queer pop group breaks up. For two of the characters, their quitting the band would hardly register as such, because they leave to pursue other, equally grand artistic endeavors. Culturally, they’re allowed to change their minds, because they choose something acceptable with which to fill the presumed void.

Another band member, however, quits the entertainment industry altogether. Instead of pursuing a solo career, Steph goes home. They spend time with their family; they have the privacy to explore and express their identity. And they worry, when a storm reunites all four of them in their hometown, that the others will judge them for this choice.

Usually when I talk about my novel, I mention the sparks: the broken-up band, the benefit concert, the heartbreak and yearning of the main romance. It is too simple to call it a book of second chances—at friendship, romance, and dreams—because some of it is characters giving themselves permission to take first chances on new dreams.

There’s enormous pressure these days on teenagers to know exactly what they want, very early on. At fourteen or fifteen, you should be starting the right extracurriculars, so you can move into leadership roles by the time you’re applying to college, so you can enter college with a starter résumé that will land you the position on the university newspaper or in the lab.

The narrative goes like this: if you change your mind, at any point after you are fifteen or sixteen, then you’re already behind. You have wasted time, and possibly money. What’s more, it often feels shameful to be wrong about anything, and especially shameful to be wrong about anything you’ve staked yourself publicly to: your identity, your dreams, your plans for your future. When that niggling sensation of wrongness—or, worse, that euphoria of rightness, but from the “wrong” source—arrives, you push it down. It’s too late.

It’s not too late.

I write about ambitious queer kids, but the dark undertow of ambition is the fear that to be anything but is to be considered cowardly or lazy. Sometimes, you realize you need to be on a different path. Sometimes, you’re just tired.

Rest. And if you want, later, get up again, from whatever side of the bed you want.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Lisbeth Osuna Chacon

Miel Moreland was born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota. With time spent in California and France, she has a Midwestern heart but wandering feet. When not making pop music references and celebrating fandom, she is likely to be found drinking hot chocolate and making spreadsheets. She currently resides in Boston.

Social links:

Twitter: @MielMoreland

Inta: @readthenfall 

website: www.mielmoreland.com

About It Goes Like This

In Miel Moreland’s heartfelt young adult debut, It Goes Like This, four queer teens realize that sometimes you have to risk hitting repeat on heartbreak.

Eva, Celeste, Gina, and Steph used to think their friendship was unbreakable. After all, they’ve been though a lot together, including the astronomical rise of Moonlight Overthrow, the world-famous queer pop band they formed in middle school, never expecting to headline anything bigger than the county fair.

But after a sudden falling out leads to the dissolution of the teens’ band, their friendship, and Eva and Celeste’s starry-eyed romance, nothing is the same. Gina and Celeste step further into the spotlight, Steph disappears completely, and Eva, heartbroken, takes refuge as a songwriter and secret online fangirl…of her own band. That is, until a storm devastates their hometown, bringing the four ex-best-friends back together. As they prepare for one last show, they’ll discover whether growing up always means growing apart.

ISBN-13: 9781250767486
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication date: 05/18/2021
Age Range: 13 – 18 Years

On Being Unchosen, a guest post by Katharyn Blair

I think I’m about four years old in the video. Maybe younger.

It’s a sunny day, and we’re sitting at our old house on Swain Street. My sister Hannah is playing in the yard, red-blonde pigtail catching the sunlight like a sparkler, and I’m sitting in the shade of the front doorway. The tape is grainy, the shot shaky as my mom balances the huge camera on her thin shoulder.

Zoom in, to a small girl in her favorite tie-die dress, telling a story.

Not just any story – she’s telling a scary story. Fingers curved into claws, eyes wide. Talking to no one, but what else is new.

Whatcha doin’, Kate-O? My mom’s voice is loud, and I look up and smile as Hannah screams off camera.

My mom always tells that story as the moment she knew I’d be a storyteller. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about that little girl.

There wasn’t a moment when I stopped being her. That’s not how that kind of change happens. It’s a slow thing, I think. A gradual awareness.

I got a taste of it when I was in second grade. I went to a Christian school—we wore uniforms and said morning prayers. My dad was on the board of directors and many of the teachers went to my church. While I’d had my share of detention (there, detention was called “The Line,” and we had to stand on a small stretch of blacktop in the sun without moving), I’d never been in trouble trouble. That is, until I started telling stories. Vampire stories, to be exact. I didn’t think anything of it—I was just doing what I’d always done. But somehow, a teacher found out. They called my parents, and that’s the first time I heard that I was “inappropriate.” It would not be the last.

From left to right: Hannah, Me, Becca, and Rachel. Photo credit: OANA FOTO

I’m the oldest of four girls, raised in a small fundamentalist church. I didn’t think anything of the fact that we weren’t allowed to speak in the assembly or say prayers in Sunday school. We could prepare the Lord’s supper but never pray to bless it or pass around the Bread and Cup. I didn’t like it, and it didn’t feel right. But I hadn’t figured out the words to form the questions.

In fourth grade, we made the move to public school because my younger sister needed an IEP and our Christian school couldn’t help. And where she went, so did I. It was a new beginning—a chance to be a little less weird. But I showed up with a hard lunchbox when everyone else had Arctic Zone sacks. I wore blue leggings, and the crotch always was mid-thigh by the end of the day. Some girl was mean to me, so I called her a jackass. She came into the classroom and told my teacher, who yelled at me and gave me detention. Public school felt like a swing and a miss.

I felt like I was a swing and miss everywhere.

Against the odds, I made some friends, slowly. But I was always aware that I was too much—too odd, too scary. I still loved vampire stories, still felt at home in the aisles of the library that were filled with worn R.L. Stine books. I just figured I would keep that part of me under wraps. I was enough of an outcast already, and that was all without letting someone into my head. My head, at that point, had become a really scary place.

My anxiety disorder bloomed into something hungry and unrelenting by the time I’d turned eleven, and when I had a panic attack in my sixth grade classroom and asked to step out, I was told to be quiet. When I insisted, on the verge of tears, the teacher dismissed me but informed me I was going to get a detention. After class, as the room emptied around me and I sat in the back, tears streaming down my face. The teacher kneeled down to look me in the eye. You know what you did wrong, right? She asked, and I didn’t look at her.

You were disruptive. You made a scene.

I tucked those words very deep in my chest, and I realized that in order to survive, I was going to have to stop being so… me. I was never going to naturally find a place where I fit, and I was never going to feel like I belong. The only way to make it through middle school—the only way to make it through life—was going to be to lay low.

For years, I laid low. I didn’t tell ghost stories, though I still read them and wrote them and loved them. I took whatever friends I could get, staying on the outer circle of the group, eating my lunch quietly and hoping no one would notice that I was there and ask why. Or who I was. Or why I was wearing an adult-sized raincoat to school every day in Southern California. (I didn’t know how to explain to my classmates that my OCD wouldn’t permit me to wear anything else.)

I wish I could tell you there was a definitive moment when I woke up. I wish I could tell you that I finally realized my worth, found a good balance of meds, slipped out of the raincoat, and started being my full, strange self. If I were writing my story, that’s exactly what would have happened (and it probably would have been at a school dance where I’d give a rousing speech and wind up being the most loved girl in room). But that didn’t happen—in fact, I didn’t finish middle school. I dropped out and did independent study, which basically meant I stayed home and watched Maury and Treasure Planet while waiting for my mom to come home from work at lunch so we could go to the McDonald’s drive-thru and get Salad Shakers. I saw my therapist once a week and my psychiatrist once every two weeks. My friends stopped calling, and I knew that even at my quietest, I’d still been too much.

Even now, tracing this story with my fingers and telling it back to myself, I can’t really tell you when I started waking up. I think, just like my quieting, it was a bunch of slow moments.

Photo credit: OANA FOTO

I graduated high school and went to college. I studied abroad and traveled the world. Lost my faith and found it again. I got married and went to grad school and started writing. For a long time, I didn’t worry about fitting in. I had an awesome husband and a dream job…everything else was off the radar.

I started hearing Charlotte’s voice in 2018. The plot of Unchosen had been floating around my head for some time, and it got louder as I tried to balance being a mother and a writer. As I got tattoos and dyed my hair purple and pushed back against the teachings of my church. As I dealt with the dozens of opinions of family and friends and strangers regarding my choice to work and be a mother. As I looked at my daughter as she sat on the porch of our house, whispering tales to no one, just like I did. As I wondered if she’d have to carve out her own space just to survive, like I had.

And I realized, as I look at the life I’m living now—the life I love—that carving out your own space is not always a bad thing. Being unchosen isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, being unchosen taught me how to live.

Meet the author

Photo credit: OANA FOTO

Katharyn Blair is a novelist and screenwriter. She has her MFA in screenwriting and her MA in literature. She’s been a social media coordinator for several films at 20th Century Fox, an intern at her city’s Parks and Recreation Department, a gymnastics coach, and, most recently, a writing professor at Azusa Pacific University. UNCHOSEN is her second novel for young adults. Her debut novel, The Beckoning Shadow received two starred trade reviews and was the book of the month for Book Box Club, Shelf Love Crate, and Beacon Box.

Unchosen at HarperCollins

Unchosen at Amazon

Unchosen at Barnes & Noble

Read an Excerpt From Unchosen, a New YA Fantasy From Katharyn Blair | Tor.com

Katharyn Blair author web site

@katharyn_blair on Instagram

@Katharyn_Blair on Twitter

@KatharynBlairAuthor on Facebook

About Unchosen

Katharyn Blair crafts a fiercely feminist fantasy with a horrifying curse, swoon-worthy sea captains, and the power of one girl to choose her own fate in this contemporary standalone adventure that’s perfect for fans of The Fifth Waveand Seafire, and for anyone who has ever felt unchosen.

For Charlotte Holloway, the world ended twice.

The first was when her childhood crush, Dean, fell in love—with her older sister.

The second was when the Crimson, a curse spread through eye contact, turned the majority of humanity into flesh-eating monsters.

Neither end of the world changed Charlotte. She’s still in the shadows of her siblings. Her popular older sister, Harlow, now commands forces of survivors. And her talented younger sister, Vanessa, is the Chosen One—who, legend has it, can end the curse.

When their settlement is raided by those seeking the Chosen One, Charlotte makes a reckless decision to save Vanessa: she takes her place as prisoner.

The word spreads across the seven seas—the Chosen One has been found.

But when Dean’s life is threatened and a resistance looms on the horizon, the lie keeping Charlotte alive begins to unravel. She’ll have to break free, forge new bonds, and choose her own destiny if she has any hope of saving her sisters, her love, and maybe even the world.

Because sometimes the end is just a new beginning.

ISBN-13: 9780062657640
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/26/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Morgan’s Mumbles: Taking Mental Breaks, by Teen Contributor Morgan Randall

Teen contributor Morgan Randall talks with us today about taking mental breaks

As this is the midpoint for a lot of colleges’ fall semester, I (like many other college students) am starting to struggle a lot with mental fatigue especially that which comes from the lack of social interactions with purely online classes. Staring at a computer, on average for eight hours a day, is taking a toll on me mentally as it makes me feel isolated. And the lack of sunlight is having an effect on my mental health. Right now would be the perfect time for a break, one where I could go outside and take time to mentally reboot. However, my college (like a lot of other ones) has opted to not have a fall break this year, and in exchange releasing us from the fall semester earlier. I understand why, with the fear of another large wave of COVID, however, going to a large college COVID cases are already high and a majority of students aren’t in person anyways. I do think it is important to try and limit contact, and if the university thinks this is the best way to do so then I pray it works. However, by doing this it doesn’t allow people time to re-cooperate after midterms or even just to have a few days to reset mentally.

I have one professor who canceled one of our classes this week as a “break” but he still assigned us work, and every other of my classes are still happening. I understand my professors have a lot to teach us in little time, however with the amount of information being crammed into my mind at this rate I will not retain any of it. Mentally I need time to breathe and process everything happening, along with having time to practice some healthy self-care. Since I am currently limited on how I can do that, due to both COVID and the lack of having a break, I am trying to come up with some ways I can still have a mental reset without missing classes and risking the safety of anyone.

Some of the ways I have come up with is to take a walk, it can be hard to get a long walk in when a majority of your classes are spread throughout the day but even taking a short walk normally helps my have some mental clarity. Journaling has also been really helpful, sometimes I journal about things that are on my mind, and other times I just find random journaling prompts and work off of those. I have been trying to explore more music recently and trying to find smaller artists to support. Music has always brought me some kind of happiness, so find something that sparks joy for you and find a way to incorporate that in your everyday life. One of my roommates paints, and I also really enjoy embroidery. Cleaning and organizing have also (oddly enough) become really soothing since I live in a very contained area, any messy area effects my mental clarity. I like to pick up throughout the day, and then whenever I am feeling real slumped I’ll push myself to deep clean something or organize another area so that in turn I will feel better mentally and my space will be cleaner.

These are things I would typically do over a break from school, during high school, so now I am just trying to find ways to incorporate these in my everyday life. That way a break isn’t the only time you get to mentally reset. If you are someone who normally gets to travel over breaks, and can’t do so now. I recommend trying to find a local campsite you can visit, so that you have no (or little) contact to other people but can still feel like you got to get away. Or if you live close to a lake, ocean, mountains, or large forested area take a day trip just to have a change of scenery and find something to do there. If you are able to, take a road trip with roommates or family, pick a location and make it a fun trip. By limiting your space to your car (and as few stops as possible) you can limit spread but also still make a day or a few interesting.            

I hope that this gave you some ideas of things to do if you aren’t going to get a break anytime soon, and I hope it will help you mentally reset.

Morgan RandallTeen Contributor

Morgan recently graduated high school and is currently enrolled to attend college in the fall getting her BA in Theatre and Dance with an emphasis on Design and Technology. She loves theatre, writing, reading, and learning. But something that has always been important to her is being a voice for those who feel like they don’t have one, and being a catalyst for change in any way possible.

Book Review: My Life in the Fish Tank by Barbara Dee

My Life in the Fish Tank

Publisher’s description

From acclaimed author of Maybe He Just Likes You and Halfway Normal comes a powerful and moving story of learning how to grow, change, and survive.

When twelve-year-old Zinnia Manning’s older brother Gabriel is diagnosed with a mental illness, the family’s world is turned upside down. Mom and Dad want Zinny, her sixteen-year-old sister, Scarlett, and her eight-year-old brother, Aiden, to keep Gabriel’s condition “private”—and to Zinny that sounds the same as “secret.” Which means she can’t talk about it to her two best friends, who don’t understand why Zinny keeps pushing them away, turning everything into a joke.

It also means she can’t talk about it during Lunch Club, a group run by the school guidance counselor. How did Zinny get stuck in this weird club, anyway? She certainly doesn’t have anything in common with these kids—and even if she did, she’d never betray her family’s secret.

The only good thing about school is science class, where cool teacher Ms. Molina has them doing experiments on crayfish. And when Zinny has the chance to attend a dream marine biology camp for the summer, she doesn’t know what to do. How can Zinny move forward when Gabriel—and, really, her whole family—still needs her help?

Amanda’s thoughts

The summary up there is pretty thorough and hits most of the main plot points of the story. What you need to know, what you can’t really learn from the summary, is how nuanced and emotional this story is. Many families choose to keep something like a mental illness private/secret/a family matter. I’m not here to judge people doing that (though, we all know I’m super open about our mental health issues here and think being open helps eliminate stigma and leads to more help for everyone) because mental illness is hard, family can be hard, choices are hard, and so on. But certainly for Zinny, being told to keep it private that her older brother is bipolar and in a treatment facility really destroys her.

Zinny’s parents become distant and shut down as the family tries to get through this hard time without really talking to one another about it or being open. Her mother shows signs of depression and takes a leave from her job as a teacher. Her father is always at work. No one makes dinner or takes care of things, leaving Zinny to feel like she should cook, get groceries, and so on. Her secrecy drives a wedge between her and her best friends, leaving her feeling even more isolated and alone. Her older sister is dealing with their brother’s diagnosis and absence differently than Zinny is, so she also feels a loss of kinship with her sister. She’s confused, ashamed, upset, and still not entirely clear what’s happening. Her feels even worse when she hears her mom straight up lie about her brother (he’s back at college and doing great!).

While all of that is really hard, surprising good things happen. Dee doesn’t leave Zinny alone and despairing. She gives her a great science teacher, Ms. Molina, who lets Zinny come help in her classroom during lunch, who supports her without overtly making it about what’s happening at home, and who encourages Zinny to be making connections and continuing to live her life. Dee also gives Zinny a group of new friends, a lunch bunch of other middle school kids dealing with rough issues. While Zinny isn’t thrilled to be in this group at first, she gets a lot out of those connections and finds not just kids who are also experiencing difficult times, but kids who want to be her friend, who include her, and who show her it’s okay to be dealing with family issues. Her family is struggling, but Zinny is surrounded by support and true caring. And while her parents definitely make missteps along the way (as a parent, I can safely say we all do, even if we’re certain we’re trying to do our best), they all work together to figure out how to get through this time.

Flashbacks to both happier times and moments with Gabriel that illuminate how long his mental illness went undiagnosed create a bigger and better picture of Zinny’s family. Given how many children are most certainly dealing with mental illness at home or with someone close to them, this is a much needed book that shows how hard and scary it can be, but also how much help there is and how much hope there is. Zinny’s story moves from feeling like they’re all just barely surviving this upheaval to seeing how everyone learns to function more honestly and healthily in this new reality. It’s hardly news to say that mental illness affects the entire family, but it’s so important that we see the ways this can happen and understand that it’s okay to be affected and to need to figure out a way forward. An important read and highly recommended.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781534432338
Publisher: Aladdin
Publication date: 09/15/2020
Age Range: 9 – 13 Years

Pandemic School, by Teen Contributor Riley Jensen

Today, teen contributor Riley Jensen is sharing her thoughts about starting school this upcoming year. Riley will be starting her senior year; it’s an important year with a lot of big decisions. She knows she wants to be a forensic scientist, which means college and tests and campus visits. She also has found her home, her people, in the theatre program. I did not think last year when I saw her perform that it would possibly be my last time seeing her perform on the high school stage. As her mom, this was very hard to read. We’ve cried a lot, talked a lot, and we’re trying to balance making the best decisions for her with the best decisions for our family with the best decisions for our community, all in the midst of a deadly viral pandemic in a state with really consistently high numbers of infection, hospitalizations and death. Here’s a look into the mind of a teen trying to navigate education in the pandemic.

This year while many other schools have made the decision to start school off virtually, my district decided that students would have a choice between online school and in person school. Only half of my schedule is actual academic courses while the other half is made up of extracurricular courses. So, I made the decision to do in person school since I can’t really be a teacher aide from home. Obviously students are required to wear masks and socially distance, but it can be hard to tell how many of the students will actually follow these instructions since they barely even listen to a dress code already.

Thinking about starting this school year has caused me a lot of anxiety. I have no way of knowing what my fellow students have done, who they have been in contact with or how well they’ve been following the recommended precautions. All I know is that if I get the virus at school I will be bringing it back home to my family.

It’s time to put on make up . . . But will the curtain go up again during senior year?

I also know that not everyone is taking this pandemic very seriously. I see people’s posts about them going out to restaurants or amusement parks or parties. I see them without their masks. I see them not being socially distant. I’m not completely innocent either. I’ve gone out and seen large groups of people. Nobody is really doing what they’re supposed to be doing anymore.

So, when I get back to school, I will be surrounded by people who have gone out and done things without a mask. I will be surrounded by people who don’t think this pandemic is that big of a deal. I will be surrounded by people who probably haven’t even looked at the number of cases in weeks. I will probably not be safe.

Senior photo by Rescue Teacher Photography

There are things I could do to make me more safe obviously. I could just show up to my extracurricular classes, but I don’t drive. I know that’s my own fault but that doesn’t change the fact that I still don’t drive. I could drop a few classes and sign up for early release, but then I won’t get all of the credits I need to graduate. At this point I don’t really know what to do, but I’m scared.

I am terrified of the thought that I might get sick and bring it home to my family. I’ve seen the statistics and I know that school is not a super awesome idea. It’s just so much to process. I barely even know what I want to do with my future, but now I have to figure out what to do without putting my whole family in danger of getting sick.

This whole thing is just stressful and scary and something that I never even thought I would have to think about. So, I’m just going to do my part in keeping everyone safe and hope that everyone else does the same. It seems that’s all anyone can really do at this point.

The Power of Being Vulnerable, a guest post by Kate O’Shaughnessy

I was twenty-one years old the first time I had a panic attack.

Kate, age 21

It was the tail-end of a long weekend in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, right after my junior year of college had wrapped up. I was exhausted and ready to go home, the straps of an overstuffed backpack chafing against my sunburned shoulders as I wandered through the airport with a friend.

It came completely out of nowhere. We were browsing in a bookstore when my chest grew unbearably tight, like someone was sitting right on my sternum. My heart began to race and my breathing became shallow. The pressure in my chest was intense, and I was suddenly overwhelmed by an almost-prophetic sense of doom.

Is this how it feels when you’re about to die? I thought wildly. Had I drank too much that weekend? Had I gotten sun poisoning? Had all of that, plus the combination of not sleeping and being stressed about exams, done something terrible to my heart?

Panicked, I left the bookstore. I didn’t know what was happening to me. I went and sat on the floor outside, my back against the wall, desperately trying to get a deep breath. At that point, my vision was starting to go speckled and black around the edges.

“Are you okay?” My friend asked, now kneeling next to me. I must have looked terrible, because I can still remember the worry on her face.

“I don’t know,” I told her. “I think something’s wrong with my heart.”

Within minutes there were other people around me, too. Someone must have called a doctor, or whatever medical staff was on-site, because soon they were kneeling next to me, too, asking all kinds of questions.

My chest still felt scarily tight, but the “I’m about to die” feeling was fading. I’m okay, I said, I just want to go home. But given my symptoms, I was told that I wouldn’t be allowed on the flight and that an ambulance had been called. 

And the ambulance did arrive. With a stretcher. I was horrified. I begged them to please let me walk, that I was starting to feel a little better, but I was told it was a matter of liability and I had to hop on up and let them strap me in.

For years, what I remembered most about this whole experience was the shame. That hot sluice of humiliation as I tried to hide my face from classmates who were watching me roll through the terminal.

At the hospital, the doctor gently suggested that it could be a mild inflammation of my heart’s lining, but that in all likelihood what I’d experienced was a panic attack.

Instead of listening, or asking more about panic attacks or what I could do to avoid them in the future, I clung to the first option, to the purely physical diagnosis, like it was a life raft. I told my worried friends that there was something up with my heart, that it wasn’t too serious, that a short course of anti-inflammatory pills should clear it up. I remember feeling like not all of them believed me. This made me sink deeper into that feeling of shame. I’d caused this whole big embarrassing scene, I told myself, for nothing.

I had more panic attacks after that. I white-knuckled through them. I didn’t talk about it. The embarrassment of that first panic attack had burrowed so deep that I was still ashamed. This went on for a long time.

During the course of all this, life went on. I graduated, traveled a ton, had a bunch of strange and interesting jobs, got married, and started writing.

I played around with a few different manuscripts before I started writing what turned into my middle grade debut, THE LONELY HEART OF MAYBELLE LANE. I started writing it because I’d just moved across the country, away from my family, and I was lonely. But then, I wrote more of myself into Maybelle. I gave her panic attacks, too. 

It wasn’t something I remember actively deciding to do. They were just…one part of her. For her, they started after she and her mom could no longer afford their home and had to move, an event for which Maybelle blamed herself.

Writing the book—no, writing this specific part of her—was deeply cathartic for me. Because no one else in the story judges Maybelle for her panic attacks. There is care, there is love, there is support, but there is no judgement. Because what kind of person would judge an eleven-year-old kid for their mental health struggles? Nobody decent, I realized. So maybe that meant I could stop judging myself.

And so in the process of writing about Maybelle’s panic attacks, I became more open about talking about my own. When a friend mentioned a panic attack she’d experienced, I told her that I got them, too. I started opening up about it; I let myself be vulnerable first in my writing, and then in my real life.

Funnily enough, my memory of that first panic attack started to change. I now remember it with tenderness toward myself instead of self-reproach, because I was essentially just a scared kid who had no idea what was happening to her.

Because here’s the secret: vulnerability can sometimes feel like the end of the world, but what it’s actually the end of is shame.

If you’re in a place of shame about anything, my advice is to open up. Shame dies in the light. Good people will want to support and love you. So rip the curtains aside. Talk about it. Be vulnerable. Be vulnerable in your writing, in your relationships, in your life. It can be scary, but I promise: it’s so worth it.

Meet Kate O’Shaughnessy

Kate O’Shaughnessy writes middle grade fiction. She has been a chef, earned a fellowship with the Yale Sustainable Food Program, and backpacked around the world. She and her husband live in Berkeley, CA. You can read more about her at kloshaughnessy.com and follow her on Twitter at @kloshaughnessy. The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane is her debut novel.


Links:

www.kloshaughnessy.com

www.twitter.com/kloshaughnessy

www.instagram.com/kloshaughnessy

About The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane

This sparkling middle-grade debut is a classic-in-the-making!

Maybelle Lane is looking for her father, but on the road to Nashville she finds so much more: courage, brains, heart—and true friends.

Eleven-year-old Maybelle Lane collects sounds. She records the Louisiana crickets chirping, Momma strumming her guitar, their broken trailer door squeaking. But the crown jewel of her collection is a sound she didn’t collect herself: an old recording of her daddy’s warm-sunshine laugh, saved on an old phone’s voicemail. It’s the only thing she has of his, and the only thing she knows about him.

Until the day she hears that laugh—his laugh—pouring out of the car radio. Going against Momma’s wishes, Maybelle starts listening to her radio DJ daddy’s new show, drinking in every word like a plant leaning toward the sun. When he announces he’ll be the judge of a singing contest in Nashville, she signs up. What better way to meet than to stand before him and sing with all her heart?

But the road to Nashville is bumpy. Her starch-stiff neighbor Mrs. Boggs offers to drive her in her RV. And a bully of a boy from the trailer park hitches a ride, too. These are not the people May would have chosen to help her, but it turns out they’re searching for things as well. And the journey will mold them into the best kind of family—the kind you choose for yourself.

ISBN-13: 9781984893833
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 03/03/2020
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years