Teen Librarian Toolbox
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Joy, Connection and Community: Finding Pride in Books During a Pandemic, a conversation between Robin Stevenson and Tom Ryan

Robin: Tom and I are excited to be finally launching our co-written YA novel, just in time for Pride month 2021! Of course, when we started writing this book a few years ago, we could never have guessed what 2021 would look like. I was living on the west coast of Canada, and Tom had moved back to the east coast, and we missed hanging out together in person. So I sent him a text…

Tom: I woke up one day and checked my phone (Nova Scotia is four hours ahead of B.C.) and there was a text from Robin that said something like: hey Tom I just had a great idea, we should a big queer Canadian YA novel together! I didn’t have to think it over, I just texted her back and said obviously! and things went from there. We had a few phone calls to figure out a rough plot, and then we started writing. I wrote the first chapter and sent it to Robin, who wrote one and sent it back to me, and so on and so forth. It was a lot of fun, and a really smooth and rewarding experience. The plot and the characters evolved as we wrote, but we both knew from the start that we wanted it to be really queer in an intergenerational way.

Robin: Over the last few years, I’ve had some wonderful opportunities to talk with teens about LGBTQ+ rights, identities and communities. At one event, a teen came up to me, visibly upset, and explained that they had not known anything about the queer history I had just shared. “It’s MY history,” they said. “It’s the history of MY community. And no one ever talks about this stuff.” It really brought it home to me that queer history isn’t usually passed on to kids by their parents and often isn’t taught in school either. In WYGTC, our teenage characters hear stories from people who came out forty years before them, and they also try to explain things to a much younger sibling–and in both cases, the learning flows in both directions. That very much fits with my experience: I have a huge amount of respect for the hard work done by the generations of queer people who came before me, and I have learned so much from the ideas and activism of today’s teens and kids as well.

Tom: I feel exactly the same way. It’s been such a joy and a privilege to meet and talk with LGBTQ teens since I first started writing YA, and I feel like I’ve learned so much from them. Queer people have always had to go out into the world to find family and community, which is what makes Pride such a central and important concept and event. We were actually supposed to launch this book last year, with appearances at Pride festivals and events around Canada and the U.S. and a launch at Toronto Pride, which has a very central role in the book. Because of Covid, we decided with our publisher to delay our launch by a year, and now we find ourselves in a similar situation. There’s light at the end of the tunnel, but we still can’t gather, and Pride festivals are being cancelled for the second year in a row. It’s a bit of a bummer, but we genuinely hope readers will find some of the joy and connection and community of Pride in our book!

Robin: Absolutely. I know a lot of people have felt very isolated during the pandemic, and I think this last year has been particularly hard for teens. They are at an age when many people want to be stepping out into wider worlds, having more freedom, meeting new people and exploring new places. Instead, most of them have seen their worlds shrink around them! And of course we all know that some LGBTQ+ teens are not able be out to their families and may not have a lot of support at home—so for many of them, not being able to gather with their friends and communities has been devastating. While books can’t replace other kinds of connection, they often do help many readers to feel less alone. Diverse queer representation is more important now than ever, and I am so grateful to everyone who is helping get these books into the hands of teen readers. One important part of Pride is how it makes LGBTQ+ identities and communities more visible, and Tom and I tried to do this within our novel. We wanted readers to feel seen, and we wanted to give them a glimpse of what Pride can be. We hope readers will enjoy going to Pride with Talia and Mark as much as Tom and I did! Happy Pride, everyone!

Tom: Happy Pride indeed! I know there’s a rainbow waiting for us all when these clouds lift, and I honestly can’t wait for the day when we can finally meet up in person and celebrate WYGTC the way we always meant to. It might not be the launch season we expected, but Pride is always worth celebrating.

Meet the authors

TOM RYAN is the award-winning author of six books for children and teens. His debut novel, Way To Go, was a nominee for the OLA White Pine Award, and made the 2013 ALA Rainbow List, as well as YALSA’s 2013 Quick Picks. Tom was born and raised in Inverness, Nova Scotia, and currently lives in Halifax with his husband Andrew and their awesome dog.

ROBIN STEVENSON is the author of more than twenty books for children and teens. Robin’s YA novel A Thousand Shades of Blue was a finalist for Canada’s highest literary honor, and her middle-grade novel Record Breaker won the Silver Birch Award, Canada’s largest reader’s choice award for young readers. Robin lives on the west coast of Canada with her partner and their son.

About When You Get the Chance

Follow cousins on a road trip to Pride as they dive into family secrets and friendships in this contemporary novel—perfect for fans of David Levithan and Becky Albertalli.
 
As kids, Mark and his cousin Talia spent many happy summers together at the family cottage in Ontario, but a fight between their parents put an end to the annual event. Living on opposite coasts—Mark in Halifax and Talia in Victoria—they haven’t seen each other in years. When their grandfather dies unexpectedly, Mark and Talia find themselves reunited at the cottage once again, cleaning it out while the family decides what to do with it.
 
Mark and Talia are both queer, but they soon realize that’s about all they have in common, other than the fact that they’d both prefer to be in Toronto. Talia is desperate to see her high school sweetheart Erin, who’s barely been in touch since leaving to spend the summer working at a coffee shop in the Gay Village. Mark, on the other hand, is just looking for some fun, and Toronto Pride seems like the perfect place to find it.
 
When a series of complications throws everything up in the air, Mark and Talia—with Mark’s little sister Paige in tow—decide to hit the road for Toronto. With a bit of luck, and some help from a series of unexpected new friends, they might just make it to the big city and find what they’re looking for. That is, if they can figure out how to start seeing things through each other’s eyes.

ISBN-13: 9780762495009
Publisher: Running Press Book Publishers
Publication date: 05/04/2021
Age Range: 13 – 18 Years

Book Review: Road Tripped by Pete Hautman

Publisher’s description

In this captivating story about loss, love, and changing your ways, National Book Award­–winning author Pete Hautman imbues the classic road trip novel with clever wit and heartfelt musings about life and death.

Steven Gerald Gabel—a.k.a. Stiggy—needs to get out of Minnesota. His father recently look his own life, his mother is a shell of the person she used to be, and his sort-of-girlfriend ghosted him and skipped town. What does he have left to stick around for? Armed with his mom’s credit card and a tourist map of Great River Road, Stiggy sets off in his dad’s car.

The only problem is, life on his own isn’t exactly what he expected and, soon enough, he finds himself at a crossroads: keep running from his demons, or let them hitch a ride back home with him.

Amanda’s thoughts

I’m a huge fan of Hautman’s work. I’m also a huge fan of character-driven stories where the plot isn’t really grand or intricate. I’ve said it a million times, but just throw some interesting characters together and let them yammer at each other and ruminate on life and I’m good. That’s plenty for me. Because meeting people, interacting, learning, growing, thinking, rethinking, processing… that’s actually a lot of plot. The plot of “how do I do this whole being a person thing and what on earth am I supposed to think or do or say” is huge and one we can all relate to.

I always like a good road trip book. Stiggy sets off on his own, but spends the majority of his trip meeting people who both literally and metaphorically make him change course. He leaves Minnesota because everything is just really crummy and seems to have no point. His father recently died by suicide, his girlfriend totally ghosted him, and he pissed off his only real friend. Sick of everything and the king of negativity and bad attitudes, Stiggy takes off with a vague destination in mind, some cash, his mom’s stolen credit card, and his dad’s iPod full of old music. Along the way he meets colorful characters who force him to think about things he’d rather not address, like: What are you mad about? Do you know who you are? These people make him think about connections, about the nature of friendship, and other philosophical stuff.

Interspersed with the chapters about his road trip are chapters from his past that inform readers about his relationship with Gaia, a quick-to-anger, emotionally confusing Goth girl a year younger than he is. Their relationship is pretty low-key—they hang out a lot, just sort of aimlessly driving and listening to music. They talk, but there’s a lot they don’t know and don’t understand about each other. When Gaia up and decides to move to Wisconsin to live with a friend, Stiggy is totally thrown for a loop. Gaia offers him nothing, then leaves. He hopes to reconnect with her on his road trip, but it’s clear that he has a lot of work to do on himself before he could ever be ready to have any kind of meaningful relationship. That’s clear to us, the readers, but also seems to become clear to Stiggy as his trip goes on.

Stiggy undertakes his road trip partially because he doesn’t want to think about a lot of things. But, of course, his road trip becomes all about thinking about stuff, no matter how hard he avoids it. What else is there to do while driving through the Midwest but think? Readers who like reluctantly introspective characters who are ultimately good dudes just making lots of mistakes (otherwise known as “growing up”) will be rooting for Stiggy to find a way to ditch his nihilistic attitude and avoid the path in life his father took. And while he learns and grows and changes, he does so in ways that may not even be obvious to him (but are to readers). He doesn’t have particularly profound revelations or come back to Minnesota a new man. But, forced to confront the junk he’d been swerving away from, he now has the potential to change and maybe even the impetus. Hand this to readers who like stories with strong (and sometimes not necessarily super likable) characters.

(The content warning for this book: Stiggy’s father dies by suicide. It is mentioned multiple times, including multiple references to how he died. Readers may want to skip a chapter entitled “Groundhog Day,” which includes a graphic description of his death. )

Review copy courtesy of the author

ISBN-13: 9781534405905
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date: 05/14/2019

Book Review: Finding Paris by Joy Preble

Finding Paris by Joy Preble

Spoiler-free part of the review:

Sisters Paris and Leo (Leonora) always look out for one another. Throughout their mother’s many boyfriends and their many moves, they’ve found comfort in sticking together. Paris has recently graduated from Las Vegas High. Leo is focused on her future, busy studying for the SATs and dreaming of going to Stanford and then becoming a doctor. She can’t wait to leave Las Vegas, and her gambling stepfather (Tommy) and blackjack dealing mother, behind. She gets to do just this, even if just for a handful of hours, much sooner than she expected when her sister disappears and send her on a wild chase across Las Vegas and LA.

 

What seemed like a routine night out—stopping at the diner Paris works at for some pie—takes a giant turn when they meet Max, a boy sitting in another booth, reading a physics book. Paris encourages Leo to talk to him, then ditches out, taking the car and leaving Leo without her wallet, her phone, or a way to get home. It seems like Paris is maybe playing some dumb joke—leave Leo with the cute new boy—but when they find a note she left behind, it becomes more confusing. “Stay calm, Leo. This is the only way. He’s making me. You have to find me.” Understandably, Paris’s message worries Leo. Why is this the only way? Who is “he”? Where is Paris? To find out these answers, Max and Leo set off on a scavenger hunt, finding note after note urging Leo along, eventually sending them to Los Angeles. Along the way, Max and Leo, who just met hours earlier, slowly reveal bits of their personal stories. It seems odd that Max would be game for trying to find the sister of a girl he barely knows, but it all makes sense once the entire story comes to light.

 

The whole story has a constant undertone of desperation and sadness. Things seem seedy, possibly ominous, and revelations about big pieces of the plot and major aspects of the characters are slow to come. Careful readers will quickly understand that this is not just some mystery or caper story. There is something else going on. And even if you think you know what that something else is, you are probably wrong. The dramatic culmination of the chase makes everything (heartbreakingly, horrifyingly) clear, with a major plot twist that won’t necessarily be seen coming at all. The tension will make readers race to the end of the story, and the conclusion will make them want to start the book over again to see what they may have missed. While this is a mystery and (less so) a romance, it is the much darker and more serious elements of the story that make this a hard book to put down and an even harder book to forget.

 

The spoilers:

Don’t read this if you want to go into this story not knowing what the major reveal is. I hadn’t read anything about this book, so while I could see some things going on under the surface, I wasn’t prepared at all for where the book took me. This is a good thing. It was unexpected and truly caught me off guard. So really, go away right now if you want to read this book and discover on your own what happens. GO NOW!

 

 

Still here? Okay. You sure? Okay. Hi, here are spoilers:

 

Something is up with Tommy, the stepdad. He seems creepy. Preble has done an outstanding job of having this character that we don’t see a whole lot of come across as completely icky. As the story goes on, it becomes clear that Paris is trying to protect Leo from someone. It starts to seem likely that the story we are not seeing is that Tommy has sexually assaulted Paris in some way. Leo starts to put this story together as she and Max drive all over. Near the end, Leo finds out Paris has taken a gun from a friend’s house and Leo is sure that this whole scavenger hunt was just designed to keep Leo out of the way while Paris hunts down and kills Tommy for whatever he has been doing to her.

 

When Leo and Max find Paris, Leo repeatedly tells her it will be okay, that Tommy won’t hurt her anymore, that he won’t touch her again. But it’s not Paris that Tommy has been raping—it’s Leo. It’s Leo. In the chapters that follow, we learn that Tommy has been repeatedly sexually assaulting her. Paris has kept waiting for Leo to say something to her about it, but Leo never has. Now the truth is out and it remains just Paris and Leo together, watching out for each other. Their mother, who always sides with Tommy, keeps asking Leo, “You’re telling the truth?” It is heartbreaking to watch her mother doubt her, to watch the girls move out, to hear from Leo what has been going on. Leo feels that Max’s protection during this horrible scene that reveals the truth is “a gift I do not deserve.” She can’t imagine Max will want anything to do with her now that he knows the truth about her. She thinks about how she trusted Max “because if a random stranger was good, then so was I.” Watching her process (slowly) what has happened and think about what this means for her life and her relationships is so painful.

 

There is so much to discuss here—the family dynamics, the silence, the secrets, the distrust, the suspicion, the denial, the shame and more. Because of the late reveal about the sexual violence, it forces readers to rethink what they think they know about the story and the characters. It also makes readers think about what the future will hold for Leo. This is a great addition to the list of titles that discuss sexual violence. 

 

REVIEW COPY COURTESY OF EDELWEISS
ISBN-13: 9780062321305
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 4/21/2015