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Lifting Their Voices, a guest post by Marcia Argueta Mickelson

As a teen, I didn’t have a voice. Well, technically I did, but I didn’t use it. My voice was hidden; it lived in fear of being seen or heard by anyone around it. My voice was so quiet that, in my junior year of high school, a bee stung me during math class, and I said nothing. I didn’t tell my teacher or my classmates. I didn’t ask to go to the nurse. I sat in pain for the rest of the day until I got home and told my mom.

My voice was so scared of being heard that it couldn’t even advocate for my own well-being. This was due to social anxiety or extreme shyness or both. Perhaps I quieted my voice because I always had a sense of not belonging wherever I was. There were loud, overwhelming voices telling me that since my family came to the U.S. as undocumented immigrants, I didn’t belong. So, I quieted my voice even more. One day, I missed school to attend my naturalization ceremony and receive my citizenship. The next day, my teacher asked why I was absent, and I was too embarrassed to tell him the reason. I could have spoken out in celebration of a wonderful experience, but I hid it.

My father, Jose Argueta, is pictured here taking his oath of citizenship. I was able to receive my citizenship a few years after him.

It was in the last year of my teens that I finally found my voice and realized that I needed to use it. This realization came in the form of a transformative book. In a college class, we were assigned to read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. In Malcom X’s writings, I discovered my voice. His message taught me to be proud of who I am and where I came from. His words inspired me to feel pride in my very small voice, and I became resolved to amplify it to advocate for myself and for others.

One of the reasons I love to read and write about teens is because in these young characters, I see them doing what I could never do at that age—lifting their voices. I see these young characters using their voices to say many important things.

We see young people speaking out to advocate for themselves or for other people all of the time, and I am in awe of their courage. The young people who formed the March For Our Lives movement were compelled to speak out against gun violence. They used their voices to create a huge movement. A young undocumented immigrant used her voice during her valedictorian speech in Texas to advocate for undocumented immigrants. Greta Thunberg, with her very young voice, inspired students all over the world to join her strike for climate change. Today’s young people are advocating for change in a way I could never imagine doing when I was a teen. I lacked their courage.

While I was not courageous enough to use my voice as a teen, I can now create fictional characters who are not afraid as I was or who overcome their fear to speak out.

In my book, Where I Belong, Millie Vargas is the oldest daughter of parents who came to the U.S. from Guatemala as undocumented immigrants. The book begins with Millie keeping her voice small, not wanting people to know that her she and her parents were once undocumented. She lives her life quietly, helping to take care of her siblings when her mother is at work. Millie’s quiet existence gets thrown into the spotlight when her mother’s employer, a Senate candidate, shares their story at a campaign event. He praises Millie’s family as deserving immigrants because of their work ethic and Millie’s straight A’s. The media recognition brings out trolls who denigrate and threaten Millie. At the same time, activists and reporters want Millie to speak publicly, to tell her story and advocate for immigrants. Millie doesn’t like the spotlight and wants everyone to forget about her. Susanna, an undocumented teen from a neighboring city, reaches out to Millie and invites her to a rally. Millie hesitates, but as she sees that Susanna is willing to put herself in danger of deportation by attending the rally, Millie decides to go. She takes the stage at the rally and tells her story.

Millie was scared to use her voice to speak out for the undocumented, but she overcame her fears for a great cause. She was inspired by another teen to use her voice. Although she was hesitant at first, it didn’t take her nearly as long as it did for me to find and use my voice. Even though I am not a teenager anymore and never had the courage to do what I see so many young people doing, I am thrilled that I get to create characters who find the courage to lift their voices.

What a wonderful generation of youth that surrounds us who elevate their voice, sometimes individually and sometimes collectively to uplift, inspire, protest, resist, inform, or advocate.

Meet the author

Marcia Mickelson was born in Guatemala and immigrated to the United States as an infant. She attended high school in New Jersey and then graduated from Brigham Young University with a BA in American Studies. She is the author of five novels including Star Shining BrightlyThe Huaca, and Where I Belong. She lives in Texas with her husband and three sons.

Marcia Argueta Mickelson’s Website: http://marciamickelson.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/marciamickelson/

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/marciamickelson

About Where I Belong

An immigrant teen fights for her family, her future, and the place she calls home.

In the spring of 2018, Guatemalan American high school senior Milagros “Millie” Vargas knows her life is about to change. She’s lived in Corpus Christi, Texas, ever since her parents sought asylum there when she was a baby. Now a citizen, Millie devotes herself to school and caring for her younger siblings while her mom works as a housekeeper for the wealthy Wheeler family. With college on the horizon, Millie is torn between attending her dream school and staying close to home, where she knows she’s needed. She’s disturbed by what’s happening to asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border, but she doesn’t see herself as an activist or a change-maker. She’s just trying to take care of her own family.

Then Mr. Wheeler, a U.S. Senate candidate, mentions Millie’s achievements in a campaign speech about “deserving” immigrants. It doesn’t take long for people to identify Millie’s family and place them at the center of a statewide immigration debate. Faced with journalists, trolls, anonymous threats, and the Wheelers’ good intentions—especially those of Mr. Wheeler’s son, Charlie—Millie must confront the complexity of her past, the uncertainty of her future, and her place in the country that she believed was home.

ISBN-13: 9781541597976
Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/07/2021
Age Range: 12 +

YA Book Club Discussion: This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

IMG_6587On December 12, the teen book club I run at the library talked about Marieke Nijkamp’s This Is Where It Ends, a story about a school shooting. Sourcebooks was nice enough to send us a box of books, some chalkboards, and chalk as part of a pre-publication event. Six very talkative teens took part in the main discussion (some other teens took the book back in November when I handed it out, but didn’t make it to this meeting, and a few other kids filtered in toward the end of our discussion). We took pictures of ourselves holding the chalkboards after we wrote our brief reaction to the book on them. For privacy’s sake, we covered up our faces and I am only using the teens’ first initial (and seriously, yes, like half my book club has names that start with A).

 

As an aside, can I just say that I LOVE when we feature actual teen voices on TLT? I spend so much of my time hearing what other adults think about YA, and while that’s great, I am always desperate to hear more from actual teenagers when it comes to discussions on YA. Having worked in a high school library and now a public library, and running a teen book club, I’ve gotten spoiled by how many conversations I get to have about YA with real teens. I often think their voices get lost in all of our chatter. I so value their input (on everything, book-related or not) and am lucky that I get to interact with teens all the time.

 

For more about Marieke Nijkamp and her new book, check out my School Library Journal interview with her! 

 

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Me, age 19 (twice over)

The publisher’s overview of the book:

10:00 a.m.
The principal of Opportunity, Alabama’s high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

10:02 a.m.
The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

10:03
The auditorium doors won’t open.

10:05
Someone starts shooting.

Told from four perspectives over the span of 54 harrowing minutes, terror reigns as one student’s calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.

 

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E, age 17

 

The discussion (which includes some spoilers):

Conversation flew fast and furious (and my notes are quite fragmented—hard to catch all of the side conversations that cropped up). I’m mostly just going to relay what they talked about and not editorialize or argue points where I may disagree with them. What follows are highlights from our discussion:

 

The teens all felt that the various reactions and way things unfolded in the auditorium were extremely realistic. We saw a wide range of reactions to the shooting from the students in the book. Some of our discussion veered into wondering if certain characters reacted in realistic ways, or wondering why it took them so long to do specific things. We kept coming back to, well, who knows how any of us would react in this horrific situation.

 

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R, age 16

 

We spent a fair amount of time wondering how realistic the set-up was, with an entire school all in one place in the auditorium and the shooter having enough time to secure the building and get certain people out of the way. My group of book club teens includes traditionally schooled teenagers as well as home schooled and unschooled kids. Many of the teens attend the high school I used to work at. We all agreed that if a situation like this were to unfold there, there would still be faculty and staff present in other areas of the building, so it was hard for many of us to picture a school event that put everyone conveniently in one place.
There was also a large discussion about how realistic the response time seemed. Again, we were only hypothesizing, and know the school was in a remote area, but many wondered if it would actually take the police so long to get to the school. Everyone understood the police had to be kept away, for narrative purposes, but wondered about the believability of it.

 

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A, age 19

 

Responses to characters were all over the place. Many didn’t like Autumn, the shooter’s sister, or feel connected to her. Others did like her. One girl wondered if she was depressed. Everyone did, however, agree that including a family member in this situation was important and a nice touch. We talked about how none of these acts of violence occur in a vacuum, and that all shooters have families, are someone’s kid, etc. This led to talking later about readers wanting to know what happened after the event, how Tyler’s dad and sister coped and moved on.

 

Another element that generated discussion was the use of flashbacks to fill in backstories. For many, it distracted from the suspense to keep getting pulled away from the story to go back and learn details. They wondered if there was a different way to give us this information without breaking up the tension.

 

Many of the teens felt sad for Tyler, the shooter, and felt empathy for him. They felt sorry for him. They saw he was at the end of his rope and that this shooting was his revenge, with him punctuating his point. Nothing was going to stop him. They talked about how he didn’t just snap, that he had planned this, and that he knew how it would all end. They said the book ended in a way that it had to—there was no other outcome for Tyler than what happened.

 

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Q, age 14

Regarding the violence, the teens felt it was realistic without being overly graphic, and that it was hard to read, but you can’t censor the violence in a story about a school shooting.

 

One boy repeatedly noted how good Nijkamp is at striking terror into her readers. We all could feel the horror of what was happening in that auditorium.

 

We talked a little about the social media aspects included in the novel—tweets and messages interspersed between chapters. The teens said it helped show reactions on the outside and the immediacy of reactions. They were grossed out by the people trying to get interviews and remarks from kids busy being worried they were about to be shot. A few felt the tweets etc weren’t necessary and distracted from the tension.

 

I was surprised that the teenagers ALL agreed that they felt the body count would be higher (than the incredibly high number it was). Given how long the shooter held most of the school captive, they thought far more students would have died. Eek.

 

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S, age 16

 

We discussed the epilogue to the book, too. The teenagers felt the epilogue softened the otherwise extremely dark and upsetting book. One girl noted that it gave readers a bit of hope to cling to. A few wanted the book to end with the chapter prior to the epilogue, to let it end on a more brutal and hopeless note. One girl noted that she simply didn’t read epilogues if she thought the penultimate chapter provided a satisfying ending.

 

Overall, the teenagers saw a lot to pick apart (and believe me, they ALWAYS do)—the believability of the situation, the response time, the reactions—but all agreed that the novel hit close to home with how common mass shootings are and are curious to see what Nijkamp will do next.

 

 

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A, age 13

The teenagers wrote up brief responses to the novel: 

 

THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS is one of the most compelling books I have read in a long time. The way that the characters’ stories intertwined so effortlessly really amazed me, and the way that all the characters had something to do with Tyler really gave them all a purpose and made them all essential. However, in my opinion, at the middle/latter part of the book, the flashbacks were, I thought, a bit unnecessary. I was almost tempted to stop reading because of the lack of suspense, at the part where I thought there should have been more. But other than that, one of the better books I have read in a long time.

A, age 13

 

Okay, so this book was not something I would actively seek out, but it was something that really resonated me. It was a well-written book but could have been better without the fillers. It really made me think about how many people in my school could be capable of doing this. All and all this was an okay novel.

E, age 17

 

I really like Tyler’s planning, but it doesn’t seem very practical. It seems odd how far away the school is from town. Autumn is a drama queen. Tomas is a great character. I really wanted more aftermath. The background characters give a lot of life to the story.

Q, age 14

 

What a heartwrenching read! The characters have such great development, only to have them disappear at a moment’s notice. The relevency of the concept is sure to make this a interesting read for teens. A very thought- provoking and tragic story.

S, age 16

 

So I liked the book overall. It had lots of great things like how it seemed very real in the auditorium and you could picture what it would be like to be in a school shooting which is very common but not really talked about. It has some good characters who you could empathize with. Also I found the idea of everything happening so fast cool. But I think all the backstory, though necessary, was too distracting from trying to make everything happen in less than an hour. I forgot I was scared till it flashed back into current time and it was a little difficult to stay focused, but when it did go back you wanted to keep reading to find out what happens next during the shooting.

 

I thought Tomas’s character was pretty well done and we wanted him to save the day and we are sad for him. Also most kids have been bullied/outcast from some group so we could relate to what it’d be like to be a school shooter in a very very less aggressive way. I thought it was very smart to add a family member in the auditorium because I have an older brother who has autism so he’s been bullied and most people assume school shooters to be autistic, sadly, so I could relate somewhat to her character. She had barely any depth to her character and I understand why she’d be so depressed—she barely had friends or interests. I liked her relationship with Sylvia because it was subtle and semi realistic in the fact a lot of couples aren’t public and especially gay or lesbian couples don’t want to tell their parents so keeping it hidden seems like a good depiction of that kind of relationship that isn’t portrayed in a lot of things.

 

I like how it ended because if he didn’t die we would have been very mad at him and probably wished he had died and in most stories you hear of school shooters or any shooting they kill themselves because they have no reason to live and go to jail. I would recommend this book for a quick read on a new perspective of school shootings but needs work in areas like, where was the rest of the staff and students because in normal lockdowns they are in their rooms but was everyone in the auditorium? Usually that doesn’t happen in real life because kids go to the bathroom, teachers don’t have to be at assemblies that don’t affect them, etc.

R, age 16

 

 

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A, age 18

Thanks to Sourcebooks for providing us with the books! This Is Where It Ends comes out today, January 5th. For another look at teens’ reactions to this book, see Karen’s post.