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The Made-up Parts Have the Most For-reals in Them, a guest post by Grant Farley

The house is a “tall-skinny” built in a slightly hilly area overlooking LA harbor, a hodgepodge neighborhood of houses built and rebuilt on half-lots first planned for beach combers and dock workers in the 1920’s. It is where my wife and our son and I have lived since he was born seventeen years ago, and it is where we are now, like you, hunkered down during this time of Covid. Within this house lurk mysterious triangles. This blog is about one such mystery. 

“It’s cool how the old man never butts into the tale, instead lets me tell it to the end. If there is an end. It takes a good listener to make a story whole, and he has a deep-down way of listening.”

The first point of the triangle: My writing space is an enclosed balcony off the back of the upper story. A roll-top desk and a shelf fill it. The desk was my father’s before me and my grandfather’s before him. Ink stains and coffee rings and scratches and a trace of airplane glue connect the three of us. A triangle, I suppose, but not the one for us now. I wrote Bones of a Saint from this desk. I still can’t free myself from R.J. whispering some tale in my ear, as though his voice has permeated this wood.

“My all-time most favorite tale was selling toes. Not my own, of course. I sold my brother Charley’s toes.”

Those were the first words he spoke for Bones of a Saint. Now I gaze over the top of the desk out to the harbor, a more industrial panorama than romantic vista, but the freighters and cranes remind me to stop gazing off at the ocean and get the hell back to work. At my back is the “guest bedroom.” Since there haven’t been guests for over a year, and my dresser has migrated here, stacks of notes and drafts teeter amid piles of clothes. The door is now closed, as is the door to our bedroom, but I can hear my wife’s full laugh from the second point of the triangle, drowning out even R.J.’s insistent whisper.

“Mr. Sanders, with his Canterbury Tales, he taught me about pilgrims that lived in a past that went back hundreds and hundreds of years. And Father Speckler, with his New Testament, he preached about a future that won’t come until forever and ever, amen. Neither way does any good now, against the Blackjacks. All I can do is live in the here and now.” 

The second point of the triangle: Our bedroom is now half-converted to her classroom, and even through two doors I hear her online students engaged in an animated discussion of a favorite novel. My wife is a high school English teacher. A very good teacher. Is it weird to say that part of why I fell in love with her was the way she throws herself into her teaching and her students? Her students used to call her Ms. Frizzle. I’m pretty sure it was a compliment. Most of the time. I fantasize about her teaching Bones of a Saint. When Covid struck, with little space in our house, we moved my dresser from our bedroom into “the guest room” and ordered a desk that we put together in our bedroom, and her classroom was born. At least she has a large window overlooking a hill with the sun streaming in the afternoon. Still, there have been many times when I have had to helplessly watch her cry from exhaustion or frustration or anger. Now I hear her call, “David!” That’s our son. He is in her class and must be in big trouble. “David, you get on this zoom, now!” Boy, is he in trouble. This brings us to the third part of our triangle.

“My scary stories are make-believe. They help my sibs escape the for-real scary. A whole flying saucer full of bloodsucking aliens is nothing compared to a single Blackjack.”

The third point of the triangle: Downstairs, directly below my alcove, lurks the dark reaches of David’s room. During Covid, it has evolved into more of a burrow. I dare not describe its depths. However, a beacon of hope rises in the form of two shiny trombones, secure on stands precisely parallel to one another rising out of that bleakness. Outwardly, since the Covid, he appears quite content with his world being reduced to a microcosm. Somewhere inside he must be hurting, but I can’t reach it. He is a senior, a band geek and an aspiring jazz “trom-boner.” He was proud of being chosen section leader for the low brass and looked forward to all the competitions, marching in the Rose Bowl Parade one last time, and performing in the All City Jazz Band at the Hollywood Bowl. He has been consumed with his college apps, mostly music auditions on YouTube and zoom interviews. Never once has he complained about his Covid situation. Well, maybe a flicker of worry, since his parents are ancient and there looms danger.  

Abuelita grabs a chair and sits down facing us and puts the glass on the window ledge and lets out this sigh like she’s too old and tired to put up with my mierda… Her tales are about funny people, the earth and the sky, animals that talk and even witches, what she calls brujas. Manny does his best squeezing them into English for me.”

“Sorry.” David has come upstairs and is talking through her door.  “I overslept.” All the kids whose faces must be on that zoom are his classmates, and I find myself on his side. Yes, be defiant. His footsteps echo down the stairwell, and I’m relieved my wife has let it drop, as I imagine him sheepishly signing on to the zoom amid a wall of faces. Is this oversleeping a small chink in his armor, or am I overthinking it? He is, after all, a world class sleeper. He has a list of books he likes, when pressed to read. But he doesn’t share his parents’ passion for reading. Still, he is that third point on the triangle, the student reader wedged between the writer and the teacher. He has read fragments of drafts from Bones. I imagine him opening the real book someday and reading the dedication.

“Father Speckler announced that there wouldn’t be no more Bible Story Time. Instead, we’d have Science Project Demonstrations. Trust a Jesuit to bust Bible Story Time for something like Science Project Demonstrations.”

So there you have the three points of one human triangle. Bones of a Saint is a tale of survival through story, with the countless triangles that implies. Survival as in, this tale just might postpone a boy’s death. Or this tale may lead to an old man’s redemption. And that story, why that story may help vanquish a hundred-year-old evil. During our time of Covid, rather than point out that tales are trivial compared to the travails of our times, the disease has done just the opposite. How many times have we come to the end of a zoom or a phone call, even one that’s mostly business, and especially if it’s one that involves sadness, and someone will ask, “Did you see The Queen’s Gambit on NETFLIX?” “Have you read The Nickle Boys yet?” “What’s your favorite audiobook lately?” “Can you believe what he just tweeted?” “You gotta look at this Youtube.” These may be different media, but they are all tales.  Imagine surviving the last year without any stories to sustain us, to connect us through myriad triangles.   

“There’s something clear and hard way deep inside the old man, like that creepy old body is just a shell he’ll toss away any time he feels like it. I sit back listening, wondering if he’ll die with the next word or just rattle on with his tale into forever.”

Join Grant Farley, in conversation with Michael Cart, for an engaging discussion on Bones of a Saint, writing, and YA literature this Friday, March 19 at 6 pm PST in a virtual event with Vroman’s Bookstore. Sign up here.

Meet the author

Grant Farley, born in North Hollywood CA, is a former teacher, full-time writer and lighthouse enthusiast. While writing and raising a family, he has also taught at a Santa Monica alternative school, a barrio junior high, and a Marine Science magnet in San Pedro. At this very moment you may spot him in his alcove overlooking Los Angeles Harbor, huddled over his grandfather’s roll top, a Springer Spaniel at his feet as he pounds away at his next writing project—a fantasy novel inspired by his love of Celtic lore, his cynicism of mystic triangles, and his experiences working in an antique light house. Bones of a Saint is his debut novel.

ABOUT BONES OF A SAINT

“A compelling, unforgettable reading experience that is brilliantly executed.” Booklist, Starred Review

“[A]n atmospheric read . . . Pulls you forward toward an ending that is like the sting of a scorpion.” —Newbery winner Jack Gantos

Set in Northern California in the late ’70s, this timeless coming-of-age story examines the nature of evil, the art of storytelling, and the possibility of redemption.

Fifteen-year-old RJ Armante has never known a life outside his deadend hometown of Arcangel, CA. The Blackjacks rule as they have for generations, luring the poorest kids into their monopoly on petty crime. For years, they’ve left RJ alone, but now they have a job for him: prey upon an old loner in town.

In spite of the danger, RJ begins to resist. He fights not only for himself, but for his younger brother, Charley, whose disability has always made RJ feel extra protective of him. For Roxanne, the girl he can’t reach, and the kids in his crew who have nothing to live for. Even for the old loner, who has secrets of his own. If RJ is to break from the Blackjacks’ hold, all of Arcangel must be free of its past.

ISBN-13: 9781641291170
Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 03/16/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Book Review: What Beauty There Is by Cory Anderson

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, a STARRED review, which originally appeared in an issue of School Library Journal.

Roaring Brook. Apr. 2021. 368p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781250268099.

 Gr 9 Up–A desperate boy risks everything to keep his brother out of foster care in this heart-pounding and heartbreaking story of survival and sacrifice. Seventeen-year-old Jack and his second-grade brother, Matty, only have each other. With their father incarcerated and their mother recently deceased, their only hope of sticking together is finding the money their father went to prison for stealing. Deeply impoverished and terrified of child protective services getting involved, Jack sets out to track down that cash, pursued at every turn by drug dealers and Bardem, his father’s partner in crime. His only hope comes in the form of Ava, who decides to help them and gets wrapped up in their mission. But Ava’s secret—that she’s Bardem’s daughter—guarantees there is no way things can end happily. Unremittingly bleak and gritty, this suspenseful story centers around the ravages of poverty and drug addiction that have left Jack and Matty with nothing. Breathtakingly beautiful writing and tender characters collide with a brutal plot filled with bloodshed and anguish. The body count piles up as Jack, Matty, and Ava try to hide in the quiet, frigid emptiness of rural Idaho, never more than half a step ahead of their hunters. The lengths Jack goes to keep his family together and the obstacles he faces will leave readers gutted. A gorgeous, intense, and shocking look at chaos, survival, fate, and betrayal. Characters’ ethnicities aren’t named and Jack and Matty are described as pale.

VERDICT A first purchase and a must-read. Prepare to be haunted and chilled to the bone by this exceptional story.

Book Review: Winterkeep by Kristin Cashore

Publisher’s description

The highly anticipated next book in the New York Times bestselling, award-winning Graceling Realm series, which has sold 1.3 million copies.

For the past five years, Bitterblue has reigned as Queen of Monsea, heroically rebuilding her nation after her father’s horrific rule. After learning about the land of Torla in the east, she sends envoys to the closest nation there: Winterkeep—a place where telepathic foxes bond with humans, and people fly across the sky in wondrous airships. But when the envoys never return, having drowned under suspicious circumstances, Bitterblue sets off for Winterkeep herself, along with her spy Hava and her trusted colleague Giddon. On the way, tragedy strikes again—a tragedy with devastating political and personal ramifications.

Meanwhile, in Winterkeep, Lovisa Cavenda waits and watches, a fire inside her that is always hungry. The teenage daughter of two powerful politicians, she is the key to unlocking everything—but only if she’s willing to transcend the person she’s been all her life.

Amanda’s thoughts

What a delight to get to return to this world after all these years.

We begin with meeting a treasure-collecting sea creature, perhaps the creature the humans have mythical stories about, the Keeper, and some telepathic purple silbercows, who also reside in the ocean. They set up the initial parts of the story and draw the reader in with the mystery of what is happening and what part they will play. The reader will come back to their perspective and roles throughout the story, and for me, their small sections were among my favorite parts of the book.

When two of Queen Bitterblue’s men go missing, she decides to pursue what happened herself. Along with Giddon and Hava, she travels to Winterkeep, a democratic republic home to the Keepish people, a respected academy, advanced medicines, and powerful fuels. Their initial question, what is the Keepish interest in Monsea, grows to become many questions as they meet more people and uncover more details. Every character is complicated and richly drawn, a potential enemy or ally to Bitterblue’s crew (it’s often hard to be sure which they will be). Much of the story revolves around Lovisa, a 16-year-old Keepish girl skilled in spying, eavesdropping, observing, and skulking around. When her story intersects with Bitterblue’s, things really take off, leading the reader on an adventure full of mystery and uncertainty. I don’t want to spoil any of what happens, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the existence of telepathic foxes (who can bond with humans) in this book. They play a vital role in the story and how it unfolds and one small fox must grapple with how to control the course of events and carries the heavy burden of wondering how to keep the secrets of foxkind.

Winterkeep deals with heavy themes, many of which are common to all of the Graceling stories—love, loss, grief, trauma, manipulation, and toxic families. The biggest themes, however, are environmentalism and warfare, themes that all the humans must grapple with as they trek through Winterkeep and themes that are at the heart of what the silbercows and their giant sea creature friend must do.

While this story can be read alone, reading it in context of the rest of the Graceling Realm books would be more meaningful. This particular book also has wide crossover audience appeal. Bitterblue is 23, Giddon is 31, and Hava is 20. Lovisa and friends are the teens in the story. Parents and other adult family members of various characters also play large roles in what unfolds.

This is a story of choices and survival. It is one of bullying, gaslighting, abuse, and fear. It is about government, politics, and war. But more than anything, it is about truth, strength, warmth, love, support, and healing. This is a strong addition to the series—perhaps my favorite—and I hope we see more of this expanding world.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780803741508
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 01/19/2021
Series: Graceling Realm
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Raising Superheroes: How Tough Times Create Resilient Kids, by author Rebecca Behrens

Today we are very excited to host this great post about resilient kids by author Rebecca Behrens. 2020 is proving to be a difficult year for our kids and Behrens shares tips to get them involved, give them space, and help grow resilient kids to survive the challenge that is 2020 – and life in general.

“I told her to keep happy thoughts.” That’s how Leia Carrico kept her little sister, Caroline, calm during the first night they spent stranded in the Northern California wilderness. The girls, just five and eight years old at the time of their ordeal, had wandered off a deer trail while looking for a “sunny spot” in the woods near their home, and soon found themselves wandering in circles.

Once the girls realized they were hopelessly lost, they stopped to wait under the shelter of a bush they nicknamed their “huckleberry home.” The sisters stayed hydrated by licking rainwater droplets off of leaves, and they stayed positive by focusing on things they loved, those “happy thoughts” about their family and trips to the ocean. At night, Leia bravely kept watch for wild animals—like bears and mountain lions—while Caroline tried to rest. The girls kept yelling for help, even losing their voices—but not before searchers heard them and cut through bramble bushes for a dramatic rescue, after forty-four harrowing hours alone in the woods.

Stories like the amazing Carrico sisters’—and my own, far less dramatic childhood brushes with wildlife and severe weather—have helped inspire the fictional survival stories I write for young readers. In researching my books, I’ve uncovered many stories of kids whose daring and determination have helped them get through maritime mistakes, natural disasters, being stranded in the wilderness—not to mention times of serious emotional stress. I’ve also picked up a few tips for parents and families who want to encourage resourcefulness and resilience in their kids, both while out exploring the world and sheltered at home.

A little training does a lot of good Crucially, the Carrico sisters, once they recognized that they were lost, stayed in one place to better their chances of being found. They also knew the risks of dehydration and that fresh rainwater on leaves would be their safest bet for a drink. The girls’ survival knowledge—Leia had even learned how to safely start a fire to keep warm!—was thanks to wilderness training from a local 4-H club, family camping trips, and what they’d seen in the movies.

Some suggestions for training in your own family could include:

Consider signing your family up for outdoors or survival skills training if available from a group in your community—such as a scouts organization4-H, or the Red Cross.

Set aside some time to talk to your kids about how to stay safe outdoors or in an unexpected survival situation—such as getting stranded on the highway, or how to handle a major power outage at home.

Always be prepared Whether you are planning an epic backcountry trek or a ten-minute stroll in a state park, you should always go into nature prepared. Follow these tips to set out safely:

Make sure to always tell others where you are planning to be and when you expect to be back. (This advice goes for both adults and older teens hiking alone and families outdoors together.)

Weather conditions can change suddenly, so wear layers that can keep you comfortable when the temperature rises or drops.

Bring plenty of snacks and water—considering the weight of what you pack along is important, but in general it’s better to have more than you need than not enough.

This probably goes without saying, but a working cell phone to get help in an emergency is a must, whether you’re going near or far into nature. This past August, a Pennsylvania family was rescued from a Mount Washington trail in New Hampshire after they got disoriented on a daytime hike. Luckily, they had a cell phone and were able to call for help. Rescuers finally reached them in the dark, just before 11:00 p.m.—saving them from an overnight on the mountain, where temperatures were dropping fast. It was the third search-and-rescue call of the day—all of those hikers were fortunate they had charged phones (so watch how much juice you have left while taking selfies on the trail).

Safer at home: Natural disasters, extreme weather, and even now global pandemics are an unfortunate part of life. Even while you’re at home, these events can impact safety, security, and physical and mental health. The good news is, a little preparation in putting together an emergency kit can make these events a lot easier for your family to overcome.

Make sure your family’s kit is well-stocked—experts recommend a three-day supply of food and water, plus necessary medications, toiletries, and other supplies to stay safe and comfortable at home in extreme conditions.

A great tip is to pack coloring books, puzzles, and other non-electronic toys in your emergency kit, so you don’t have to use precious battery charge to stay occupied.

Look for lists of what to include at Ready.gov and your local Red Cross website. Make sure to consider what the most common natural disasters are in your area!

Did you have trouble finding toilet paper or tissues last March—or even your pantry staples? You don’t need to panic-buy and stock a closet full of Charmin, but it’s a good idea to set aside a little extra of your most-used household and grocery items so the next time there’s a blizzard—or a stay-at-home order—you don’t have to make a harried Target run.

The comfort of familiar or favorite things can also help kids cope when the world seems scary outside. As a child, I was terrified by summertime tornado warnings. But whenever we had to shelter from the storm, my mom let us grab some treats from the “deep freeze” freezer in the basement—like our supply of frozen Girl Scout cookies. Somehow, Thin Mints always made waiting out the storm a little easier.

Model resilience: While tough times—like the novel coronavirus pandemic, or after an earthquake, flood, or other natural disaster—put strain on all family members, they are also an opportunity to teach resilience. Dr. Sheila Modir, a pediatric psychologist in Orange County, suggests creating a “Family Coping Box” that is filled with items to help soothe when someone is feeling stressed. Perhaps most important is maintaining an open dialogue in your family about emotions in difficult times, to make sure kids are comfortable sharing their Big Feelings about the challenges and changes going on in their homes, schools, and communities. Need help getting started?

The American Library Association offers a variety of disaster resources online.

The book blog Pop! Goes the Reader has compiled a list of twenty-five recent survival titles to give middle-grade and young adult readers hope in tough times.

You can also ask your local librarian for an age-appropriate “overcoming adversity” booklist to read together as a family, then let the conversations flow.

Be the helpers: In an ongoing Vanderbilt University study, two thousand families across the United States are volunteering to collect their own COVID-19 swabs at home, which they then mail to researchers. The study hopes to gain information about how many kids get infected with the virus, and then how much they spread it to others they’re in close contact with—and the study’s results could help schools open safely in the future. For the families currently involved, it’s a way to contribute to science from home.

Eight-year-old Benna Schlub in New York City also found a way to help from home: She slipped notes under the doors of the elderly residents of her apartment building during the coronavirus outbreak this spring, offering to pick up their groceries and essentials so they didn’t need to put themselves at risk to shop in stores.

Kids have also found ways to contribute as budding inventors—ten-year-old Matthew Valerio in California invented a mask-and-T-shirt combo with snaps to encourage kids to always have a face mask handy. And the Ellis family in Ontario, Canada, created a “hug glove”—a plastic sheet with sleeves to allow the kids to hug Grandma without risking direct contact. Encouraging kids to creatively problem solve to find ways to help in the midst of a pandemic helps them stay connected to their communities while developing confidence—and building their STEM skills.

Some suggestions for your family to join “the helpers” now and in the future could include:

Using fabric remnants at home to sew face masks for your family’s use or to donate to healthcare workers.

Signing up to become disaster volunteers with an organization like the Red Cross.

Donating food, clothing, books, other supplies, or funds to national or local organizations responding after emergency situations. Coordinating a bake sale, a book drive, or a fundraising walk/run is a great way for kids and families to make a difference and connect with their communities in a meaningful way.

Kids are naturally resilient and resourceful—just look at the Carrico sisters’ story of survival. “They saved each other,” the girls’ mother told reporters, adding, “I raised superheroes.” Kids are capable of amazing, heroic things, and that includes their ability to cope and bounce back from whatever challenges nature, or life, throws their way. The opportunity to grow their resilience superpower can be a silver lining, in even the toughest times.

Rebecca Behrens is the author of the critically acclaimed middle-grade novels When Audrey Met AliceSummer of Lost and FoundThe Last Grand Adventure, and The Disaster Days, which is a Junior Library Guild selection, a Bank Street Best Children’s Book, and an ILA Teachers’ Choices selection. Look for her latest thrillingly realistic survival story, Alone in the Woods, in October 2020. You can visit her online, and view resources for parents and educators, at www.rebeccabehrens.com.

About ALONE IN THE WOODS

From the author of The Disaster Days comes a thrilling survival story about two former best friends who must work together to stay alive after getting lost in a remote national forest.

Jocelyn and Alex have always been best friends…until they aren’t. Jocelyn’s not sure what happened, but she hopes the annual joint-family vacation in the isolated north woods will be the perfect spot to rekindle their friendship.

But Alex still isn’t herself when they get to the cabin. And Jocelyn reaches a breaking point during a rafting trip that goes horribly wrong. When the girls’ tube tears it leaves them stranded and alone. And before they know it, the two are hopelessly lost.

Wearing swimsuits and water shoes and with only the contents of their wet backpack, the girls face threats from the elements. And as they spend days and nights lost in the wilderness, they’ll have to overcome their fractured friendship to make it out of the woods alive.

Praise for The Disaster Days:
“A realistic, engrossing survival story that’s perfect for aspiring babysitters and fans of John Macfarlane’s Stormstruck!, Sherry Shahan’s Ice Island, or Wesley King’s A World Below.”–School Library Journal
“The strength of this steadily paced novel that stretches over four days of a scary disaster scenario is that Hannah doesn’t figure everything out; she stumbles, doubts, and struggles throughout it all.”–The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
“Fans of survival thrillers in the vein of Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet will enjoy this tense, honest tale of bravery…an excellent (and refreshingly not didactic) teaching tool on natural-disaster preparedness.”–Booklist
“The relentless progression of a variety of disaster scenarios will keep readers turning pages…equally suspenseful and informative.”–School Library Connection
“Behrens uses immersive details and situations effectively viewed from Hannah’s perspective to create a suspenseful, vivid story filled with lessons about responsibility and overcoming adversity.”–Publishers Weekly 

From Sourcebooks Young Readers October 1, 2020 ISBN 9781492673378

How to Write Books that Aren’t Exciting, a guest post by Bryan Bliss

When I first came up with the idea for Thoughts & Prayers, I paused. Coming off the heels of my previous novel—We’ll Fly Away, which dealt with the death penalty—I was reminded of a writing mentor’s response when one of his eager MFA students really went for it.


“A bit much.”

A school shooting book? Really? While I have made a career writing about current topics, I’ve always been hesitant to go too “ripped from the headlines” for fear of trading on pain and trauma in the name of publishing a relevant novel. Plus, if I’m honest, the voices of my two teenagers were in my head, reminding me I write books that—and I quote—aren’t very exciting.

Teens, right?

But…fair enough.

I’ve always been interested in the subtle moments of adolescence. The rages and the furies, yes. But in smaller quantities—only used to offset the quieter moments when kids are alone with one another, when they feel vulnerable and connected in a way that is so intimate, so real, I often believe adults spend the rest of their lives seeking that same connection. That same sense of truly being accepted. Having somebody you can count on, no matter what.

This urgency is well known to anyone who writes or reads young adult literature. But too often, it can become a hyper-reality, especially in so-called issue novels. I don’t fault any writer who wants to tell a story in the moment. In fact, I often wonder if I would do the same if I could only pull it off with any skill. But if we begin thinking teenagers are only searching for that sort of rush—an adrenaline shot in 300 pages—we miss out on the need, the desire, to develop and investigate interior lives. To encounter big traumas on the page and relate them to the different-sized traumas we all face.

I am not trying to be an apologist for my novels or suggest that there aren’t many other authors working in these same, subtle places. Writers I respect, like Nina LaCour, Sara Zarr, Francisco X. Stork, and Lamar Giles (to name a few) are masters at presenting stories that are simultaneously beautiful, complicated, and joyful. These authors give teenagers an opportunity to see a familiar, often challenging world—the world as it could be—in the pages of books that honor the struggles and wonders of real life.

Again, grain of salt coming from the guy who wrote a book about a teenager on death row and followed it up with a story about three teenagers dealing with the after-effects of a school shooting.

A bit much, indeed.


But We’ll Fly Away was a death penalty book only in shorthand. And Thoughts & Prayers is less about a school shooting and more about how teenagers are so damn strong, so damn resilient—so damn brave. Both books may have been conceived by focusing on a Big Issue, but my stories never stay on such high a shelf for very long. Instead, they always find their centers, their true weight, in the moments when one teenager looks at another teenager and says, “Don’t worry. I’m here for you. I’ve got you.”


As you can imagine, my children are not impressed with this argument—especially as they are both voracious readers who finish books in single sittings, gripped by stories that I admittedly will never be able to write for them. In fact, when I told my son about this blog, he grimaced and said, “All I want is one book with a happy ending!”

This is a criticism I won’t take as quickly. Yes, my books rarely resolve with two teenagers holding hands under an arcing rainbow, a neat bow. But ambiguity and messiness do not indicate a lack of hope or happiness. There is always a path through the muck and the darkness in my books—even if it doubles back on itself time and time again.


All we need is a sliver. All we need is a spark, a chance. The smallest hint of light. Anything to draw us forward, even a single step. Because the more we see it—in novels or real life—the more we believe it exists.

What’s more exciting than that?

Meet Bryan Bliss

Bryan Bliss is the author of four novels, including Thoughts & Prayers, which released today, and We’ll Fly Away, a 2018 National Book Award longlist selection. He teaches in the MFA program at Seattle Pacific University and lives in St. Paul, MN with his family.

Check out Amanda’s review of Thoughts & Prayers here.

About Thoughts & Prayers

Thoughts & Prayers: A Novel in Three Parts

Fight. Flight. Freeze. What do you do when you can’t move on, even though the rest of the world seems to have? 

For readers of Jason Reynolds, Marieke Nijkamp, and Laurie Halse Anderson. Powerful and tense, Thoughts & Prayers is an extraordinary novel that explores what it means to heal and to feel safe in a world that constantly chooses violence.

Claire, Eleanor, and Brezzen have little in common. Claire fled to Minnesota with her older brother, Eleanor is the face of a social movement, and Brezzen retreated into the fantasy world of Wizards & Warriors.

But a year ago, they were linked. They all hid under the same staircase and heard the shots that took the lives of some of their classmates and a teacher. Now, each one copes with the trauma as best as they can, even as the world around them keeps moving.

Told in three loosely connected but inextricably intertwined stories, National Book Award–longlisted author Bryan Bliss’s Thoughts & Prayers follows three high school students in the aftermath of a school shooting. Thoughts & Prayers is a story about gun violence, but more importantly it is the story of what happens after the reporters leave and the news cycle moves on to the next tragedy. It is the story of three unforgettable teens who feel forgotten.

ISBN-13: 9780062962249
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/29/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Healing Is Not a Journey We Take Alone, a guest post by Bree Barton


(Content warning: this post talks about sexual assault.)

If you eavesdrop on a bunch of writers talking about writing, you might think they’ve just returned from the boxing ring.   

“This book is going to destroy me.” “That scene has beaten me to a bloody pulp.” 

The second book seems to hit especially hard. “Boob 2 is killing me,” an author typed in an online support group I’m a part of, a typo that spawned a delightful series of Boob 2 memes.

When my novel Heart of Thorns debuted last year, I was struggling under the massive weight of Boob 2 myself. Tears of Frost is the hardest thing I’ve ever written. I’m fiercely proud of it, but the process was excruciating. What I didn’t say in my online support group was why it was so hard.

I’d been drafting for under a month when my little sister was raped. I share that with her permission, because she’d like our culture to be able to talk more openly about rape and sexual assault.

My sister and I are very close. I dedicated my first book to her. I would burn the world to the ground to protect her. After she was raped, I wanted to.

So I did what any furious writer would do. I poured every ounce of rage into my book.  

I’d had a vague sense that I wanted to write about assault in the sequel to Heart of Thorns. After all, I’d built my entire magical system on an imbalance of power and a history of oppression, specifically against women’s bodies. How could I not write about assault?

After my sister’s rape, I grew braver. I was ready to tackle the messy, contradictory, enraging realities of trauma and its aftermath. I felt both angry and helpless, so I made my main character a fighter, someone who channeled her anger with her fists.

Meanwhile, my sister took a weeklong leave from high school. I brought her out to Los Angeles where we watched YouTube videos of Krav Maga, jujitsu, and street fighting, then practiced our new moves in my living room. We laughed together. We cried. We felt strong and powerful.

Sometimes, that isn’t enough.

One year later, during a trip to Morocco to research Book 3, I was assaulted in my hotel room by a hotel employee. 

Processing what happened has been an ongoing journey. My Tears of Frost copyedits were due the week after I left Morocco. I was reading, at a very close level, a book that dealt overtly with sexual assault. At best it was surreal. At worst, impossible. 



Here’s the kicker: the following week I flew to Portland to moderate a panel at a literary conference. The subject of the panel?


Girls and Sexual Agency. 



Oh, dramatic irony, my old friend. 

My story is not unique. Most of my friends have been harassed or assaulted, many far worse. I know, rationally, it wasn’t my fault. I’ve said this to my sister dozens of times, and I say it to her still. Yet the same questions continue to plague me. Was it because I smiled in the lobby? Were my pants and long-sleeve shirt too form fitting? Why was I naïve enough to open my hotel room door? 

When my mind wanders down those familiar furrows, I do my best to coax it back. Rape and sexual assault cannot be traced to smiles and clothes and open doors. It’s always about power. In Morocco, my power was taken away from me.  

And yet. I survived. I’ll tell you why.



Other women

After I was assaulted, our tour guide led me down a dark back hallway of the hotel to confront my assaulter so that he could “apologize” and keep his job. I knew this wasn’t right—I was absolutely terrified—but I was in too much shock to be able to stop what was happening. When the women on my tour found out? They LEAPT into action. They ensured that the employee was fired and off the premises immediately. They took me into their rooms, their dinner tables, their train cars. They comforted me through the mental fog that descended after the adrenaline wore off. These women became my sisters, my mothers, my friends. They walked beside me through the streets of Morocco, and they walked with me through the tortuous labyrinth of blame, fear, and confusion inside my own brain.



When I think of that time now, these women emerge out of the dark haze like warm beacons: with jokes, snacks, courage, and compassion. I don’t know how I would have survived without them. That’s not me being weak. That’s me being human.



I have felt so many things these past months. Frightened and frozen, hopeful and lucky, incandescent with rage. I was okay, and I wasn’t okay, and telling the whole story over and over made me feel exhausted and exposed. When a friend asked, “Will you travel alone again?” I didn’t know how to respond. Traveling solo brings all the best parts of me to life. The thought of losing that was so painful I had to put it in a box and shove it onto the tallest shelf, until I was ready to take it down. 

Six months later, an opportunity came to take it down.

I met a woman who was curating a book of letters by Arab women. She offered to fly me to Bahrain, a tiny archipelago in the Persian Gulf, to help her conduct interviews. I said yes.

I could write whole books about the women I met. The badass lawyer who’s fighting the patriarchy on a daily basis, whether it’s representing women pro bono or hiring an all-female team of other badass lawyers. The founder of a nonprofit that empowers and develops youth and women. The blogger who was incarcerated for posting on Instagram about female anatomy and women’s sexual pleasure. Since coming home, I’ve gone to sleep every night thinking, There is so much to fight for. And there are so many women fighting for it. 

That is why I wrote Tears of Frost. It’s why I poured so much of my heart into crafting a story about two young women who are in a dark, isolating place—and how they crawl, claw, and fight their way back to one another. The book became a way for me to reflect on larger themes of assault, power, and ultimately, healing.

I don’t believe healing is a journey we take alone. I believe we need friends, communities, sisters. We need guidance and support from people who have walked this path before, which is why it was important to me to include an author’s note at the front of my book, and resources at the end.

My Boob 2 is not a perfect book by any means. But it’s a book in which I chose to fight for something.

Sometimes, that is enough.

Meet Bree Barton

Bree Barton is author of the Heart of Thorns trilogy, a fierce feminist fantasy series about three girls with dark magic—and even darker secrets. The second book, Tears of Frost, comes out from KT/HarperCollins on November 5th, 2019. Bree’s novels have been published in seven countries and four languages, three of which she cannot speak. 

When she isn’t crafting a story, Bree teaches Rock ‘n’ Write, a free dance-and-writing class she created for teen girls in LA. You can find her on Instagram @SpeakBreely, where she posts fan art, book giveaways, and the occasional picture of her melancholy dog. 

About Tears of Frost by Bree Barton

This captivating second book in Bree Barton’s Heart of Thornstrilogy deftly explores the effects of power in a dark magical kingdom—and the fierce courage it takes to claim your body as your own. This feminist teen fantasy is perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas and Leigh Bardugo.

Mia Rose is back from the dead. Her memories are hazy, her body numb—but she won’t stop searching. Her only hope to save the boy she loves and the sister who destroyed her is to find the mother she can never forgive.   

After her mother’s betrayal, Pilar is on a hunt of her own—to seek out the only person who can exact revenge. All goes according to plan until she collides with Prince Quin, the boy whose sister she killed.

As Mia, Pilar, and Quin forge dangerous new alliances, they are bewitched by the snow kingdom’s promise of freedom…but nothing is as it seems under the kingdom’s glimmering ice.

ISBN-13: 9780062447715
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 11/05/2019
Series: Heart of Thorns #2
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years