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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: Healthy Habits, by teen contributor Morgan Randall

Every Wednesday, teen contributor Morgan Randall shares what’s on her mind. She is one of the many teen voices we are sharing here to help us all listen to teens to better serve them. Today she is sharing some healthy habits, combine this with Christine Lively’s post on helping teens cope with the pandemic and you have a great resource for helping teens navigate these difficult times.

Recently, I have been trying to incorporate healthy habits into my daily and weekly routines. Here are some habits I think that truly can have a great impact on the way you live your life:

  1. Have a Morning Routine – This can be something that is just a few steps, or very elaborate. But I highly recommend you try to build a regular routine that you practice every day when you get up (and challenge: try to do it without it being on your phone). Try to create a routine that involves/encourages productivity in the morning, but make it productive for yourself NOT for your job. It won’t be easy, new routines are hard to adapt to and I haven’t been the best at doing this habit so far, however, when I do those days are the most productive and I feel the best. My ideal routine (for myself, yours could be very different): wake up, make my bed, yoga, read my Bible, bullet journal/look at my schedule for the day, daily hygiene (brush teeth, wash face, etc), get dressed for the day, drink water, make breakfast and tea, then eat both of those.
  2. Drink Lots of Water – As I have been trying to live a healthier lifestyle, I have begun to try and drink the necessary amount every day. We are often told to drink eight eight-ounce cups of water a day, but for a majority of teenagers and adults, this isn’t an accurate amount to drink. I recommend using a water calculator, which use your age, weight, and how active you are in order to determine a more accurate amount of water to intake. It is important to drink water first thing in the morning, to help start your day off refreshed.
  3. Journal – Personally, I have recently been enjoying bullet journaling, because it allows me a way to track my emotions, sleep, habits, plan my days and months, and have a collection of my memories in one place. There are lots of really pretty bullet journals out there, which personally made it really hard to start because I wanted mine to be perfect. However, I realized that a minimalist approach that isn’t “pretty” is just fine because it is for me personally to plan and reflect not for anyone else. However, you don’t have to bullet journal, there are plenty of other kinds of journals to keep and I recommend you explore them until you find one you like. A few ideas: classic journal (a diary in a sense where you record your days), brain dump journal (just a space to write what comes to mind), commonplace journal (a collection of quotes and notes from things you are reading or that you hear), dream journal (a record of your dreams), and there are so many more.
  4. Make Bed – This is an easy thing to do at the beginning of the day that helps put you on the right foot. If you make your bed every day when you get up you have already completed one productive activity, which is really helpful in tricking you brain into being more productive during the day.
  5. Workout – This can be for any amount of time, and it can be as simple as walking or something more strenuous. The goal is to get your body moving and be able to feel better after the workout. I read a quote the other day that really changed my relationship with working out: “Exercise is a celebration of what your body can do, not a punishment for what you ate.” It is highly recommended that you workout in the morning, however, if you can’t pick a specific time in your routine that you workout during three to five times a week.
  6. Yoga – Personally, I love yoga in the morning when I wake up and right before I go to bed. It is a way to relax and decompress. Plus, it provides me with time to reflect, because I do yoga in silence. There are all different levels of yoga, some of which in themselves can be their own workout, but some are able to just be calming stretches. Feel free to create a routine that works for you, and don’t be afraid to try new things.
  7. Meditation – I typically do this after my evening yoga, using a guided meditation. There are a lot of meditation apps and guided meditations on YouTube. However, if you prefer meditation can be done in complete silence and you explore and discipline your mind individually.
  8. Fun Reading – During the school year, this was hard for me, because oftentimes I would read out of requirement rather than for enjoyment. Even if its just a few pages, or a chapter or two, try to set time aside every day to read something enjoyable.
  9. Spend Time Outside – Take some time every day to go outside and get some sunlight. (Friendly reminder: wear sunscreen). Be responsible and safe while doing so, but spend time walking, swimming, gardening, or even just sit outside for a while.
  10. Get Dressed – Something helpful to me has been to take the time every day and get dressed, even if I have nowhere to go because it tricks me into being productive and it makes me feel better about myself.
  11. Plan Your Meals – Every week I like to plan my meals because it allows me to be conscious of the things I am putting into my body. Plus, it forces me to limit how much I drive-thru places which is super important for my health and my wallet.
  12. Reach Out To Someone – Every day I have been trying to reach out to someone, even if it is just a “hi” in a text. This has allowed me to rekindle some friendships and stay in touch with important people in my life, even during these hard times.
  13. Have A Creative Outlet – It is super important to find a way to creatively express myself, and to do so consistently. This doesn’t have to be daily, but I try to do a creative activity I enjoy daily or every other day. This allows me to stay in touch with my creativity and avoid getting too bored.
  14. Practice Gratitude – I practice my gratitude when I journal, however, if journaling isn’t the best way for you to express your gratitude I challenge you to write letters to those you are grateful for, or call/text them and let them know.
  15. Take Technology Breaks – This allows you to separate yourself for a while, to be able to reflect and decompress. This can vary from have a day separate from social media, or maybe just turning off your phone for a few hours every day. Just find a way to be conscious about your technology intake.

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: Verona Comics by Jennifer Dugan

Publisher’s description

From the author of Hot Dog Girl comes a fresh and funny queer YA contemporary novel about two teens who fall in love in an indie comic book shop.

Jubilee has it all together. She’s an elite cellist, and when she’s not working in her stepmom’s indie comic shop, she’s prepping for the biggest audition of her life.

Ridley is barely holding it together. His parents own the biggest comic-store chain in the country, and Ridley can’t stop disappointing them—that is, when they’re even paying attention.

They meet one fateful night at a comic convention prom, and the two can’t help falling for each other. Too bad their parents are at each other’s throats every chance they get, making a relationship between them nearly impossible . . . unless they manage to keep it a secret.

Then again, the feud between their families may be the least of their problems. As Ridley’s anxiety spirals, Jubilee tries to help but finds her focus torn between her fast-approaching audition and their intensifying relationship. What if love can’t conquer all? What if each of them needs more than the other can give?

Amanda’s thoughts

When I’m writing this review it’s March 20, 2020 and I’ve just been diagnosed as “COVID-19 concern,” which I guess is what they diagnose those of us who are sick with all the symptoms in this world of no available tests. I’m really into feeling sorry for myself today. But you know what helped? This book. I read it all today. And loved it. And thank goodness I’ve stumbled into a pile of books keeping my attention because wow have I been in a reading slump lately.

This book is my favorite kind of book: small plot, lots of talking. It also has delightfully convoluted communication mainly due to the fact that we first see our characters meet at a con and know each other as Peak and Bats. Peak (Jubilee) assumes Bats (Ridley) goes back home to Seattle, but really, he stays in Connecticut to live with his terrible father. Also, while they initially know nothing about one another, Ridley figures out who Peak is (Jubilee, daughter of a famous indie comic artist and his father’s main rival) while she knows nothing about him. Even for many, many chapters while they are hanging out in IRL. And Riley may be spying on her family’s store to get intel to help his dad (who, did I mention? is terrible). And when the reveal comes that not only is Ridley Jubilee’s con-crush Bats but is the son of her mom’s rival, things grow even MORE complicated, because how can Jubilee possibly still like him? But she does.

Whew. Get all that? You will when you read it.

There’s also a lot going on here regarding both mental health and sexuality. Ridley is bi. Jubilee calls herself “flexible” and isn’t comfortable with any one label yet, but knows she’s into certain people regardless of their gender. Ridley worries what Jubilee will think about him being bi, and Jubilee worries that repeatedly liking boys somehow makes her less queer. Then there’s Ridley’s mental health. At one point he tells Jubilee that he doesn’t have a diagnosis—he has a laundry list. His main issue is anxiety with panic attacks. Given the amount of lies and secrets he juggles for much of the book, it’s no surprise that his anxiety is always in high gear. Things start to become dangerous when he begins to feel like he’d just like to get lost in Jubilee and forget everything else. A common statement at our house is that people don’t fix people. So wanting to get lost in his girlfriend isn’t exactly a doctor-approved way to treat his worsening anxiety. Some bad choices and instability lead to everything coming to a head.

While this is certainly a romance, it’s also so much more. It really asks the question of how do you survive the dark times and doesn’t offer any easy answers. It’s also a great look at two people getting maybe too wrapped up in each other and not helping them be their best selves (does that sound like a mom lecture? I may or may not have given it recently). This is much heavier than it may appear based on the cover and the summary. That said, those looking for a contemporary that successfully mixes romance with some rather serious issues (and some concerning choices regarding lies, truth, and mental health) will enjoy this. A character-driven book with wide appeal.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780525516286
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 04/21/2020
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Fiction Revelations: How Writing a Book about Witches and Murder Got Me My OCD diagnosis, a guest post by E. Latimer

The problems began in kindergarten.

Near the start of the year, I apparently got myself locked in the school bathroom, my five-year-old self fumbling with a sticky door that wouldn’t come unlatched. I don’t remember this event, but I do remember what came after. This experience seemed to break something in my brain. I spent the next year simultaneously terrified to go into those bathrooms, and totally convinced I had to go.

Over the following days and weeks, this fixation became absolute. No matter how much or how little water I would drink, it was a constant thought in the back of my mind. It became so bad that my parents took me in for “explorative surgery” to see if something was physically wrong with me.

There was nothing.

In my early teens, this strange, embarrassing obsession began to fade. But my relief was short-lived. Rather than disappearing altogether, the intense focus seemed to shift. Now, instead of constantly wondering if I really had to go, or it was just my imagination, I was suddenly fixated on my breathing instead.

Multiple times throughout the day I would notice it and begin to “accidentally” regulate my own breathing. I would worry I wasn’t breathing deeply enough, I wasn’t getting enough oxygen. I was overcome by the idea that I kept noticing my breath, that I would never stop noticing.

Whenever I tried to tell my parents, none of my explanations made sense. No, I wasn’t worried I’d stop breathing, not exactly. Yes, I knew I was still actually breathing because I’d be passed out if I wasn’t. Yes, I knew it was all ridiculous.

The “breathing thing” as I called it, continued on into adulthood. Eventually I went to a doctor, who gave me nasal spray. Then another doctor, who told me it was GAD. Then a psychologist, and then another. More GAD diagnosis. Nothing really made sense, and finally, I simply gave up.

Sometimes the obsession would retreat for a while, and I’d feel almost normal. I’d go for months like that, thinking I was okay. And then something would trigger it, and it was back into another endless cycle of obsession. It ate up weeks of my life, including an entire vacation at a beautiful resort, where I spent seven full days trapped in my own head, wrestling with this obsession (I hardly remember anything about that trip).

Each time I’d think about trying to get help for it, I’d remember the doctors and psychologists I’d already seen, and how hard it was to explain this, and I’d give up all over again.

Then, a little over two years ago, I was talking to a good friend, L.D. Crichton, author of All Our Broken Pieces, and she mentioned that the book she was currently writing was something she was very emotionally attached to, that she was putting all her fear and worries and anxiety onto those pages, and it was an incredible feeling.

It felt like something in me woke up at that moment, a strange, intense kind of need, and all I could think was, I want that.

But I wasn’t sure how to do that. I’m a fantasy writer. I write about magic. Wizards and witches and portraits that come alive and try to murder people. Where in this type of work, did mental health fit?

The book I was working on in that moment was about rival covens in Ireland. It was about witches, yes, but it was set in contemporary times, which made me think, why not? Why couldn’t I put all my mental health struggles into my main character? The anxiety, the doctors, the psychologists, the frustrations of not feeling like your diagnosis matches.

And so I did.

The process was intense, to say the least. It was simultaneously relieving and triggering. I would write for long hours and then have to take breaks for a few days, just to pull myself out of my own head. But once it was all done and on the page, it felt like a triumph. Like I had overcome my anxiety and triggers and written this book, and that was truly a feat.

But as I finished, and began to read it over with revisions in mind, there was something else aside from my triumph I was feeling, a kind of growing certainty that I’d never had before. Rereading bits of the narrative, my character’s thoughts and feelings, made it clearer than it had ever been. The doctors had been wrong. The psychologists had been wrong. This was not panic disorder, or general anxiety disorder, or PPD, as one psychologist tried to diagnose me with after the birth of my child. None of those things fit. None of them made sense. I had been talking to one professional after another, but none of them had listened. Not really.

After this realization, I dove into research with a newly found fire. Article after article, online forums and facebook pages and twitter threads. I searched all the keywords I could possibly think of. And finally I hit on something that seemed to match. Something that described me with alarming accuracy.

Determined, I went hunting through psychologists, and found one who specialized in OCD. An expert in this specific area.

It took one session with him. A short initial interview, and an on paper test that I ticked off—yes, yes, yes, yes, all of the above—and that…was that.

Somatic OCD. A subtype of OCD focused on autonomic, or non-conscious body processes and functions.

I stumbled out into the bright sunshine after the session, a little stunned. It felt surreal, having lived with this since the age of five, and just now finally getting confirmation that yes, I was right. Yes, I wasn’t overreacting or imagining things. I felt complete and utter relief.

I would feel other things later. Anger, that I’d lost so much time to this obsession. Hurt, that I’d never been able to articulate myself properly to my family. Indignation, that our mental health system had allowed me and so many others to slip through the cracks…

But I think I’ve finally settled in a good place. Witches of Ash and Ruin not only helped me get my diagnosis, I can now use it to connect with readers like me. People who are struggling to understand what’s happening to them. People who aren’t aware that OCD can look radically different in different people. And people who are just hungry to see themselves in a fantasy novel, which many of us with mental illnesses never get to experience.

And  I will forever be grateful to the writing experience that led me here. I finally have help. Confidence. Clarity. It just took twenty-seven years and a book about murderous Irish Gods and sapphic witches in order to get here.

Meet E. Latimer

photo credit: Becky Forsayeth

E. Latimer is a fantasy writer from Victoria, BC. Her middle grade novel, The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray was published by Tundra Books, and was nominated for the Red Maple Fiction Award.

In her spare time, she writes books, makes silly vlogs with the Word Nerds about writing, and reads excessively.

Her latest novel, Witches of Ash and Ruin, was released March 3rd from Little Brown.

Find out more at http://www.elatimer.com/

About Witches of Ash and Ruin

Modern witchcraft blends with ancient Celtic mythology in an epic clash of witches and gods, perfect for fans of V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic trilogy and CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA.

Seventeen-year-old Dayna Walsh is struggling to cope with her somatic OCD; the aftermath of being outed as bisexual in her conservative Irish town; and the return of her long-absent mother, who barely seems like a parent. But all that really matters to her is ascending and finally, finally becoming a full witch-plans that are complicated when another coven, rumored to have a sordid history with black magic, arrives in town with premonitions of death. Dayna immediately finds herself at odds with the bewitchingly frustrating Meiner King, the granddaughter of their coven leader.

And then a witch turns up murdered at a local sacred site, along with the blood symbol of the Butcher of Manchester-an infamous serial killer whose trail has long gone cold. The killer’s motives are enmeshed in a complex web of witches and gods, and Dayna and Meiner soon find themselves at the center of it all. If they don’t stop the Butcher, one of them will be next.

With razor-sharp prose and achingly real characters, E. Latimer crafts a sweeping, mesmerizing story of dark magic and brutal mythology set against a backdrop of contemporary Ireland that’s impossible to put down.

ISBN-13: 9781368052252
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 03/03/2020
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

Book Review: This Is My Brain in Love by I. W. Gregorio

Publisher’s description

Told in dual narrative, This Is My Brain in Love is a stunning YA contemporary romance, exploring mental health, race and, ultimately, self-acceptance, for fans of I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter and Emergency Contact.

Jocelyn Wu has just three wishes for her junior year: To make it through without dying of boredom, to direct a short film with her BFF Priya Venkatram, and to get at least two months into the year without being compared to or confused with Peggy Chang, the only other Chinese girl in her grade.

Will Domenici has two goals: to find a paying summer internship, and to prove he has what it takes to become an editor on his school paper.

Then Jocelyn’s father tells her their family restaurant may be going under, and all wishes are off. Because her dad has the marketing skills of a dumpling, it’s up to Jocelyn and her unlikely new employee, Will, to bring A-Plus Chinese Garden into the 21st century (or, at least, to Facebook).

What starts off as a rocky partnership soon grows into something more. But family prejudices and the uncertain future of A-Plus threaten to keep Will and Jocelyn apart. It will take everything they have and more, to save the family restaurant and their budding romance.

Amanda’s thoughts

I loved Gregorio’s first book, None of the Above, and have been waiting to see what she would do next. When this book showed up, along with a letter about the importance of happy books about mental illness, I rearranged my reading schedule (a literal printed out schedule right now, as I write this review, as schools are closed and I’m home with far more unstructured time than I’ve had in years) to read this right away. And I loved it.

Chinese American Jocelyn lives in Utica, New York and is finally used to life there versus her old life in the city. So when she learns that her family’s restaurant is struggling and that they may have to closed up and move, she takes it upon herself to help the business thrive. That is A LOT for a high school junior to take on. She puts out an ad for help wanted to grow the business and give them a social media presence, and Will answers it. Nigerian American Will goes to a local private school and brings lots of skills to the table. Before long, the two are not just working on the business together, but falling for each other. But it’s complicated. Jos’s dad doesn’t want them dating for a variety of reasons, both teens deal with insecurities and mental health issues that interfere with their communications and interactions, and the pressure to save an entire business looms large.

Will starts to notice Jos seems like she has depression. He has generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder. He’s been in therapy for years, which is great, but he’s not medicated, which is not great because his symptoms seem to need something else other than CBT for him to thrive. He’s wary of medication for all of the classic reasons, but also because his ob-gyn mother seems wary of medication. Jos is slowly growing more miserable, drowning under the pressure of the restaurant and clearly depressed. She is into Will be also appears to resent him—-she feels he’s more successful than she is (better grades etc). She begins to feel like she has to watch her mood around him because of how aware he is of her changing moods. She wonders if she has to appear happy for him to be happy.

I loved this story for how very real it was. Not everyone is having open conversations at home about mental health. Not everyone who is being treated is getting the full spectrum of what they could to help them feel their best. One thing that everyone is doing, however, is still living complicated, multifaceted lives that have a lot more going on than just trying to address any one thing. While this is a romance, and the story of children of immigrants juggling multiple cultures, norms, and expectations, it’s also a very affecting and complex exploration of mental health. Jos and Will’s story is warm and supportive, even when things get all mixed up. A smart story that shows that while people don’t fix people, they can support them, and that may lead to getting help. Gregorio makes it clear that not only is getting help okay, asking for help is good, too. Highly recommended.

Review copy (finished book) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780316423823
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 04/14/2020
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years

It’s Okay to Be Sad and Anxious Right Now. It’s Even More Okay to Talk About It, a guest post by I.W. Gregorio

If there exists the tiniest glimmer of a silver lining to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s been that people have become more open about talking about mental health. 

Portrait of the author as a young girl. Photo courtesy of Ilene Wong.

When I was growing up in an immigrant family in conservative central New York, I can’t ever recall candid discussions of mental illness. Instead, there were whispers and hushed discussions about my second cousin who’d committed suicide, and dramatic—and judgmental—speculation about the family member who was “having depression, ai-yo.” 

I came of age in the 1980s, before widespread acceptance of the concept of self-care, and the stigma around mental illness was such that I only had limited language to even identify my emotions. When I was acting depressed, the language that my family used to describe my mood—words like “sullen” and “moody”—was almost uniformly pejorative, as if I were flawed.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I even made the connection between my sometimes dark and spiraling thoughts and the physical manifestations of depression—poor concentration, excessive sleeping, changes in appetite, and an almost paralyzing heaviness that made it impossible to get out of bed in the morning. 

Looking back, I wish I had known two things: First, that anxiety and depression are medical conditions in the truest sense of the term. They aren’t just “in your head”—you can’t always “snap out of it” by thinking positive thoughts or praying or putting on a happy face. And just as no one would shame someone with cancer for having a malignancy, there should not be a stigma attached to anxiety and depression. 

Second, I wish that I had known that I was not alone; how common mental illness is and how easy it is for people to hide it even from those that love and know them best. It took me decades of therapy to get to the point where I could be open about my struggles with mental illness. Even when I did, I did it somewhat indirectly, by publishing This Is My Brain in Love, an #OwnVoices YA romance about two children of immigrants navigating anxiety and depression. 

When I started publicizing my novel, and my own experiences with mental illness, I steeled myself for judgmental silence from my family, friends, and co-workers. I tried to manage my expectations, telling myself that it didn’t matter if they thought less of me. What was important was that I share my story so my readers felt less alone. 

How shocking, then, to realize that it was me who would find up feeling so much less alone.

Within hours of my posting my first essay, I heard from multiple family members from multiple generations telling me of their own experiences with anxiety and depression. I got posts from colleagues from my job and from old classmates. I feel like I’m a fairly observant and empathetic person, but I hadn’t had an inkling that most of these people had battled the same demons I fight with every day. 

I realized then that even though the shame surrounding depression and anxiety has gotten better, people are still reluctant to talk about it. 

Part of the reason might be that a lot of people—including myself—feel that their problems aren’t important or severe enough to warrant attention. There have been times in my life where, because I’m not actively suicidal, I’ve felt reluctant to pursue help and told myself that things ‘’aren’t that bad.” The fact that the current media dialogue around depression and anxiety is often sensationalized, focusing disproportionately on death by suicide, doesn’t help. 

I would argue that, while the stigma surrounding mental illness has been reduced, it hasn’t yet been normalized. It’s time for us to see more representation of the spectrum of mental illness—including the earlier stages, when people are asking, “When should I seek help?” Spoiler alert: If you’re thinking about it, it’s probably time. It’s never too early to reach out to a professional.  

In the coronavirus era, anxiety is the new normal. Depression is something we must all be vigilant about spotting in our loved ones—now, more than ever. Social isolation is like a drought of the spirit, one that sets the groundwork for the scorched-earth spread of depression

Now, more than ever, I believe it’s vital to have books about anxiety and depression that give readers the language to talk about emotions, treatment, and coping mechanisms. I like to call This Is My Brain In Love a (mostly) happy book about mental illness because I believe—in fact, because I know—that it is possible to find a path forward when you live with anxiety and depression.

There’s no denying that it’s hard these days. Here are some tips from both my personal experience and from trusted sources like National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Psychology Today:

  1. Limit your news consumption if possible and focus on outlets that provide rigorous journalistic facts and solutions, rather than opinion and speculation. I recommend the World Health Organization website, and The New York Times Upshot, which provides graphs to see which countries and states are flattening the curve—as well as insight on why sometimes the data can be unreliable. 
  2. Give yourself a routine each day. #QuarantineLife can still have a schedule—and blocking out time to read the headlines can help you manage item #1.
  3. When you’re feeling anxious, breathing techniques can be incredibly helpful, whether it’s active diaphragmatic breathing, or the 4-7-8 method (breathe in for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds and exhale over 8 seconds). The University of Washington also has simple exercises that can help your muscles relax. 
  4. Mindfulness training can be incredibly helpful as stress builds up. Shine is a good source for free meditations and other resources as is a GoZen.  
  5. Get sleep. To fight insomnia, minimize screen time before bed, try to exercise 30 minutes a day, and limit caffeine if possible. 
  6. With physical distancing, most therapists and insurance companies have increased access to teletherapy. You can find a therapist at Psychology Today or by calling the NAMI hotline at 800-950-6264. If you’re in crisis, just text NAMI to 741741. 

The bottom line is, it’s okay to be sad and anxious. Chances are that the many, if not all, of the people who love you are feeling the same way. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

And most importantly, remember: You are not alone.

Meet I.W. Gregorio

Photo credit: Rayleen Tritt,
Meraki Photos, Inc.

I.W. Gregorio is a practicing surgeon by day, masked avenging YA writer by night. Her novels include Lambda Literary Award finalist None of the Above, and This Is My Brain in Love, which has received three starred reviews so far. She is proud to be a board member of interACT: Advocates for Intersex Youth, and is a founding member of We Need Diverse Books. Find her online at www.iwgregorio.com and on Twitter/Instagram at @iwgregorio.  

I.W. Gregorio’s local indie bookstore is Children’s Book World in Haverford, PA.

About This Is My Brain in Love

Told in dual narrative, This Is My Brain in Love is a stunning YA contemporary romance, exploring mental health, race and, ultimately, self-acceptance, for fans of I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter and Emergency Contact.

Jocelyn Wu has just three wishes for her junior year: To make it through without dying of boredom, to direct a short film with her BFF Priya Venkatram, and to get at least two months into the year without being compared to or confused with Peggy Chang, the only other Chinese girl in her grade.

Will Domenici has two goals: to find a paying summer internship, and to prove he has what it takes to become an editor on his school paper.

Then Jocelyn’s father tells her their family restaurant may be going under, and all wishes are off. Because her dad has the marketing skills of a dumpling, it’s up to Jocelyn and her unlikely new employee, Will, to bring A-Plus Chinese Garden into the 21st century (or, at least, to Facebook).

What starts off as a rocky partnership soon grows into something more. But family prejudices and the uncertain future of A-Plus threaten to keep Will and Jocelyn apart. It will take everything they have and more, to save the family restaurant and their budding romance.

ISBN-13: 9780316423823
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 04/14/2020
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years

The Healing Power of Fiction, a guest post by Nora Shalaway Carpenter

I am passionate and outspoken about authentic, non-stereotyped mental health representation in young adult literature. To explain why, let me tell you story.

When I was diagnosed with trauma-induced, severe obsessive compulsive disorder and PTSD, my husband and I confided in our immediate family. Here are some of their initial responses:

“Just think about happy things. You can do it!”

Blank stares and silence.

“You’re going to hurt the baby!” (I was carrying our first child at the time.)

“What you went through was for the best, in the long term. You’re lucky.” 

About a month later, a family member took me out to lunch. As I sat in the restaurant, barely holding myself together, she told me: “It’s time to stop this now. You have to snap of it.”

Let me translate that from the point of view of an individual suffering with mental health: You are behaving this way on purpose. You’re choosing to be miserable all the time. If you were stronger, you wouldn’t be like this.”

Although I still haven’t completely recovered from the emotional damage that statement caused, my relative is far from alone in that view. Her Appalachian culture (the culture I grew up in as well) instills a “yank yourself up by your own bootstraps” mentality almost from birth. Mental strength is a prized (and expected) attribute. If you’re not in tip top mental shape all the time, you bury that fact where it will never see the light of day because it’s a source of shame not only for you, but for your entire family.

Again, such mentality is not unique to Appalachian culture. Similar ideas cross myriad backgrounds, cultures, and socio-economic classes: that only “weak” or “insane” people suffer with mental health; that mental health struggles are imagined and not actually real; that medication to treat them is somehow shameful whereas medication for physical illnesses is a no-brainer.

After the disappointing reactions from my family, I tried one more lifeline: a close friend who was almost a second mom to me. And though she looked sad, she also looked bewildered, like I had spoken a different language. “Tell me what you need,” she said, trying to be helpful. And I know she was genuine, that she was asking because she truly didn’t know.

It turns out, people in crisis can rarely articulate what they need, but I didn’t know that at the time. Instead I felt stupid for not knowing and guilty for making her feel awkward. I left as soon as I could.   

Suffice it to say, I didn’t tell anyone else what was happening with me. If family members and a trusted confident couldn’t handle it, I reasoned my peers would probably ditch me immediately. Even with a diagnosis, it took a long time to get me on the correct treatment plan, so I spiraled into a very dark place. I couldn’t touch the dog I used to snuggle with every day because my brain told me he might carry germs that could hurt my unborn baby. I couldn’t use a public bathroom. I couldn’t handle raw meat anymore because what if I didn’t wash my hands well enough and I made someone sick? I checked and rechecked and checked again that the stove was off…and then I wasn’t sure if I’d checked. And once—one of my most vivid memories from that time—I literally couldn’t stop washing my hands and arms and had to call my husband downstairs to help me turn off the water.

I was terrified of getting out of bed each day because of all the triggers I’d endure while awake. I put all of my suffering focus into graduate school (it was low-residency, thank goodness, so mostly online) and I stopped hanging out with friends. 

One day, one of them asked me to grab tea with her, and because I hadn’t seen her in a while and was determined to overcome my horrible disease by sheer force of will, I agreed. As we sat sipping our drinks, she gently told me she knew something was wrong. That I could talk to her. I was mortified. I’d tried so hard to hide all my symptoms, to appear normal. But I couldn’t do it any longer. Everything spilled out—the trauma, the diagnosis, the way I couldn’t control the wild, spinning thoughts in my head that made me feel like I was slowly losing my mind.

As much as the “snap out of it” reaction is seared into my memory, so too is my friend’s response. She didn’t tell me I could fend off OCD with positive thoughts. She hugged me so that I felt in my bones she would never abandon me in this; she would never run away from this ugliness. She cried with me, right there in public. It was the first time someone (apart from my husband) didn’t imply that my OCD was in some shape or form my fault.

It is not an overstatement to say that proper treatment (for me, serotonin and cognitive behavioral therapy), both of which I never would have received or accepted without the support of important friends, saved my life.

I’m a writer, so as I began to heal, I knew that in order to process what I’d been through, I had to write about it—not the actual, real life details of my personal situation, but the feelings and emotions the experience brought out: the utter despair that I’d somehow brought this on myself and would never again be okay. That I wasn’t trying hard enough to get better. That despite having loving people around me like my husband, I was totally, horrifyingly alone.

I also wanted to explore the kind of friendship that could pull a person through such a hellish experience, and how such a friendship is established.

The Edge of Anything is the book I’d longed for during my own darkest days. It tells the dual narrative of two teenagers—one a shy photographer unknowingly suffering a mental health crisis, the other a popular volleyball star with her own devastating secret—and the unexpected friendship that saves them both. 

The book stars teenagers because I’m a young adult author, but also because teenagers are one of the most vulnerable populations when it comes to mental health. Sadly, according to recent statistics, one out of every five teenagers suffer from at least one mental health disorder per year[i], and the rate of depression in adolescents aged 12-17 has increased 63 percent since 2013[ii]. What’s more, seven-in-ten teens see anxiety and depression as “major problems among their peers.”[iii] When I think about how difficult it was for me, as an adult with health care and a supportive spouse, to figure out what was happening and find a health care specialist who understood what I was going through, the thought of undergoing a similar experience as a teen is devastating.

Today, I can tell people I have OCD. More than once someone has confided in me about their own struggles (or those of someone they care about) and I’ve been able to help them a tiny bit on their journey. Because communication matters. It can change and save lives.

It’s my hope that The Edge of Anything will function in a similar way for readers, both those all-too-familiar with mental health struggles and those with no personal experience. No one needs to be told life isn’t fair. But I think we do all need to hear that sometimes we are not okay, and that itself is okay and not something that should shame or devalue a person. We are all loveable and beautiful—just as we are, even if we are undergoing a serious, behavior-altering health condition. And we all need to hear that there’s hope.


[i] https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/adolescent-development/mental-health/adolescent-mental-health-basics/index.html

[ii] https://www.newportacademy.com/resources/mental-health/teen-depression-study/

[iii] https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2019/02/20/most-u-s-teens-see-anxiety-and-depression-as-a-major-problem-among-their-peers/

Meet Nora Shalaway Carpenter

A graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts’ MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program, Nora Shalaway Carpenter is the author of THE EDGE OF ANYTHING, contributing editor of RURAL VOICES: 15 AUTHORS CHALLENGE ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT SMALL-TOWN AMERICA (Candlewick, Oct 13, 2020), and author of the picture book YOGA FROG (Running Press). Originally from rural West Virginia, she currently lives in Asheville, North Carolina with her husband, three young children, and the world’s most patient dog and cat. Learn more at noracarpenterwrites.com, @noracarpenterwrites on Instagram, and @norawritesbooks on Twitter.

Nora’s local indie is Malaprop’s Books in Asheville, NC. Order her book there!

About The Edge of Anything

A vibrant #ownvoices debut YA novel about grief, mental health, and the transformative power of friendship.

Len is a loner teen photographer haunted by a past that’s stagnated her work and left her terrified she’s losing her mind. Sage is a high school volleyball star desperate to find a way around her sudden medical disqualification. Both girls need college scholarships. After a chance encounter, the two develop an unlikely friendship that enables them to begin facing their inner demons.

But both Len and Sage are keeping secrets that, left hidden, could cost them everything, maybe even their lives.

Set in the North Carolina mountains, this dynamic #ownvoices novel explores grief, mental health, and the transformative power of friendship.

ISBN-13: 9780762467587
Publisher: Running Press Book Publishers
Publication date: 03/24/2020
Age Range: 13 – 18 Years

RevolTeens: Teens Speaking Out and Raising Awareness for Mental Health, by Christine Lively

Trigger Warning: This post talks about mental health issues including teens and suicide

Adolescence is a time of life when we expect kids to become more moody, more unpredictable, and to experience physical, emotional, and mental turmoil. It’s also a time of life when parents, teachers, and communities begin an onslaught of advice with an ominous message that goes something like this: The decisions you make over these years will determine your success or failure for the rest of your life. This combination is a recipe for mental anguish and we all seem to accept this pressure cooker period as a necessary phase of life – we’ve all been through it, and it was awful, but it ends. We know what this does to teens. Many of us look back on that time of our lives as something we escaped from or endured rather than something we learned from, yet we haven’t changed or improved the experience for teens today.  They’re stressed out, and they need help, just like we did. I have lived with debilitating clinical depression for as long as I can remember, and I didn’t have anywhere to turn when I experienced mental health crises. My own children have experienced mental health issues, and I know how harrowing and all but impossible it is to find mental health services for children. The obstacles to finding help and support are inexcusably difficult.

Thankfully, there are a growing number of RevolTeens who aren’t waiting for adults to make the changes they need. These RevolTeens are creating programs and services to help themselves and each other. They’re just like we were and they keep proving David Bowie right, “They’re quite aware of what they’re goin’ through.” They’re not waiting for help, they’re helping each other.

8 inspiring, young mental health activists you need to know about published on Mashable profiles extraordinary teens who are not waiting for us adults to do something.  “These young advocates are developing apps, founding nonprofit organizations, coordinating fundraising drives, and building campus-wide support networks. They’re taking advantage of the work activists have previously done to decrease the stigma of talking about mental health, and they’re creating their own legacy by fundamentally changing the way young people discuss and seek help for mental illness.”

Ose Arhegham, Miana Bryant, Gabby Frost, Samuel Orley, Katie Regittko, Max Rothman, Satvik Sethi, and Amanda Southwort are RevolTeens who have taken on changing the way teens talk about and find help for mental illnesses. They’re changing stigmas and building support communities to help teens acknowledge and treat their own mental illnesses in heroic and selfless ways. Reading the stories of these young people makes me realize how important it is for these messages to come from young people themselves. Unfortunately, many of these advocates have risen to action because they were unable to get the help they needed themselves, or because they’ve lost friends and loved ones who’ve died by suicide. These tragedies were not prevented by the adults around them, and their revolt began. They’re not waiting for someone else to make change.

Cloe Sorensen is a RevolTeen who has taken on the critical challenge of suicide prevention. She, like nearly all teens in America has experienced the overwhelming loss of friends to suicide. She was moved to advocacy and started within her own community, “Initially, that meant leaning on existing relationships with family and friends to grieve, and coming up with ways to advocate for mental health at Gunn. Sorensen started the Student Wellness Committee to encourage students to be more aware of their mental health, including a referral system where her peers could refer friends anonymously for in-school counseling. Another successful initiative: Youth Empowerment Seminars, where students learn stress-relief techniques such as mindfulness and breathing exercises.” 

After those initial efforts, Chloe confronted the obstacle that so many young people face: They can’t seek out and receive mental health care without parental consent before the age of eighteen. This prevents so many teens from finding help or from even admitting that they need help and removes their agency. It stops them from even looking for the help they need and can lead to tragic results. “Now a student at Stanford, Sorensen spends much of her time working with the Stanford Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing on the launch of Allcove, a network of youth mental health centers in Santa Clara County geared toward youth 12 to 25 years of age. In addition to onsite mental health services, basic primary care, wellness services and the educational/career support offered at each center, young people can access a variety of support services without parental consent, including treatment for early psychosis and substance abuse counseling. Sorensen also founded Youth United for Responsible Media Representation, a group of students working to reduce suicide contagion by training the media not to sensationalize coverage in the aftermath of tragedy.”

Chloe’s efforts have no doubt changed and likely saved lives. She has changed the way teens seek help and brought services to those who had no way to get help before. She’s revolutionized mental health care for teens all without waiting for us adults to take action.

Those of us who work with teens see this firsthand that teens have too much to do, feel too much pressure, and feel there is no one to help them. We know that so many things should change to give teens the time, space, and support that they need to be more in control of their lives and to even enjoy their time. Mental health services are life saving and should be easily accessible to teens, but we know that they are not.

Seeing these teen advocates is inspiring at first read, but reflection brought me the realization that these kids have to revolt at least in part because they couldn’t depend on the adults around them to help and in so many cases, the adults around them were another obstacle to overcome.  I think about the kids I work with every day in the high school library. I help them with their school projects, help them find books to read, and talk with them about what’s going on in their lives. Yet, I don’t know if any of them would consider coming to me to get help with a problem, or if they believe I could help them if they asked. Who do they turn to when they know they need help? How hard is it for them to find the services they need? I know that there are dire and life altering consequences when they don’t get the help they need. While I am in awe of these teen mental health advocates, their revolt should also be a call to action for all of us who work with and love teens. They need help. We need to give them that help, or get out of their way so they can find a way to get it for themselves.  

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Call 1-800-273-8255

With Her Nose Stuck in a Book, a guest post by Jessica Burkhart

Reading has always been my thing. When I was six, my parents were barely able to get me out of my “Belle” costume. I didn’t want to wear the fancy yellow ballgown, no. I was all about the casual blue and white dress that Belle wore as she walked through town and carried a book or two in her basket. I didn’t dream about turning the Beast into a handsome prince, but I did daydream about living in a castle with an expansive library. What more did a girl need?

My love of books propelled me through my elementary school days and I devoured every horse book I could get my hands on, since I’d started riding horses in second grade. My favorite series were Thoroughbred by Joanna Campbell and Bonnie Bryant’s The Saddle Club. If it was a horse book, I’d read it or had it on my list to read.   

In middle school, I relied on books to help me hide from my peers. And I really did want to hide. I’d developed a case of severe scoliosis and even spending 22 hours a day in a back brace didn’t slow the growing hump on my back. I had to stop riding because I couldn’t move without pain and had trouble taking a deep breath. After a spinal fusion in eighth grade and during the long, painful recovery, I devoured Harry Potter.

In high school, I obsessed over YA and romance novels. I adored works by Megan McCafferty and Meg Cabot. Works by these authors helped me feel less alone as a homeschooler who was already a bit isolated from my peers.

By college, I’d written my first book, TAKE THE REINS, and soon landed an agent. My middle grade novel, about equestrians at an elite boarding school, drew inspiration from books that I’d loved as a kid and young teen. While writing the bulk of my series, the books I’d drop anything to read were Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard and Kate Brian’s Private.

My own writing career had taken off and I was living and breathing books. If I wasn’t talking about them with friends, I was blogging or Tweeting about them. I spent one day a week walking down to my Brooklyn neighborhood’s Barnes & Noble and combing the shelves for new reads or discovering old favorites that I’d forgotten. I bought as many bookshelves as my apartment could handle and even then, they weren’t enough to hold all my books.  

But one night, reading stopped being fun. I’d open a book and be flooded with anxiety. It kept happening no matter what kind of book I tried to read. I thought I’d take a break, catch up on some Netflix and the feeling would surely go away.

It didn’t.

I didn’t want to open a book or keep track of new releases or chat with my friends about the huge plot twist in the latest installment in our favorite series. I stopped visiting Simon & Schuster’s office and loading up my backpack with new reads. Everything I’d loved about books was gone and all I could feel was shame. In my eyes, I was broken. I was an author and books were not only my hobby, but also part of my job. I couldn’t tell anyone about being filled with dread if I so much as even thought about reading. So, I quietly muted all my bookish friends on social media. I deleted the Goodreads app. I stopped going to the bookstore.

It took over a year for me to realize that this wasn’t my fault. My severe anxiety and depression that had robbed me of any desire to read were to blame. I considered myself fairly well-versed in mental health topics, but I hadn’t recognized it in myself.

This pushed me to organize an anthology, LIFE INSIDE MY MIND: 31 AUTHORS SHARE THEIR PERSONAL STRUGGLES. I wanted to gather stories from other authors who had struggled with mental health because I didn’t want another person to experience the shame and feelings of worthlessness that I’d struggled with.

The book sold and hit shelves and I was still just coming around to reading. Books still felt daunting and since I couldn’t stop comparing myself to other writers, I fell into fanfiction. I spent almost a year reading nothing but fics written around my then favorite shows—ONCE UPON A TIME and THE VAMPIRE DIARIES.

Last fall, I picked up a book and started reading. Maybe four or five hours later, I looked at the clock and did a quick check in with myself. Sweaty palms? Nope. Fast heartbeat? No. Nausea? Also, nope. Bookish Jess was back and she has been for almost a year.

I’m reading a book every couple days now. If a book doesn’t grab me, I put it aside and start a new one. I’m thoroughly enjoying the feeling of wanting to stay up all night reading, so I don’t try and slog through any books I don’t like. The Goodreads app is back on my phone and my current “want to read” list sits at 1,045 and it grows each week.

If you lose interest in what you love, you’re not broken. You may be depressed. Do what I should have done: talk to someone. Confide in a trusted friend and seek help. You don’t have to be ashamed of your feelings because it’s very likely that you’re not alone in them. A couple of years ago, I thought I’d never read another book and now, I can’t stop. It took a long, long time, but a combination of medication and therapy helped me find my groove again. If you’re missing yours, there is hope. I promise.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get back to my book.

Meet Jessica Burkhart

Jessica Burkhart is the author of the Canterwood Crest series, the Unicorn Magic series, WILD HEARTS and LIFE INSIDE MY MIND: 31 AUTHORS SHARE THEIR PERSONAL STRUGGLES. She’s sold over 1.5 million books worldwide. Jess is passionate about mental health. She’s teaching classes online next year with The Writing Barn and hopes you’ll sign up. Visit Jess online at www.JessicaBurkhart.com, Tweet her @JessicaBurkhart and follow her on Goodreads.