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Holding out for a Hero: Why I used Greek Mythology to write about modern gender violence, a guest post by Kyrie McCauley

In We Can Be Heroes, three friends navigate a devastating loss due to gun violence and their own anger in its wake. They decide to turn this anger into art and activism, painting illegal murals to raise awareness for what happened—and also to demand accountability.

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Image Source: author

Beck, Vivian, and Cassie create murals based on Greek mythology, and include portraits of Cassandra, Circe, Helen, Ariadne, Andromeda, and Medusa. They’re finding a way to tell Cassie’s story to the world by channeling these myths we already know so well.

The thing about the women in these myths is that they aren’t usually the center of the story. They’re a side quest, or the hero’s motivation, or they’re even written as the villain. Essentially, they’re a lesson to be learned, which is unfortunately how we still frame a lot of violence against women today.

Today we tell stories of true crime in a similar way. We have podcasts and shows and thrillers, flashing news stories that highlight the incident without any context about gender violence. The act is sensationalized, a cautionary tale at best, and sometimes even presented as entertainment. And what about the victims themselves? Often, the person gets lost in the narrative. But the stories we tell about violence matter. Especially when 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Especially when the presence of a gun in a situation of domestic violence increases the risk of homicide by 500%.[1]

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Image Source: Canva

In We Can Be Heroes, I bring Cassie back after her death as a ghost haunting her friends and seeking justice for what happened to her. Cassie sees her community briefly mourn her and then move on, without ever confronting the events that led to her death. Her community is better at mourning a loss than preventing one, and doesn’t seem to care to change.



Cassie was the victim of murder, but also of people turning away from the signs of an unhealthy relationship with escalating danger. The red flags were ignored or rationalized. There are patterns of violence against women in Greek mythology, too, and I wanted to highlight those similarities while telling Cassie’s modern story. The first mural the girls paint is of the prophetess Cassandra, who saw the future but was ignored, just like those red flags in Cassie’s relationship were missed.

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Image Source: Unsplash

I’ve listened to hundreds of stories from survivors of violence, as an advocate, a counselor, a friend. And the thing that always struck me was the echo in the room. There was the trauma itself, infuriating on its own, and then there was the follow up: not being believed. There is a lot of frustration with systems that fail victims of violence again and again.

At one point, Cassie wishes: “If only this world loved living girls as much as it loves dead ones.” I think we are good at rallying around a tragedy, but we have a lot of work to do in preventing one. And it starts with listening to and believing victims of violence. We Can Be Heroes is about reclaiming our stories. Was Medusa really the monster? Why was Andromeda sacrificed to Cetus, the sea creature? How do we talk and write about the tragic heroine?

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Image Source: Canva

Who gets to be called a hero? In this book, it is the teen girls. By bringing Cassie back as a ghost and giving her a point of view, I got to let her tell her own story—not just as a passive, haunting specter, and not just as another statistic, but as a furious young woman grieving the life that was stolen from her. She wants justice, but she’ll settle for vengeance. It felt good to give Cassie and her friends the rage they have so earned. And it felt good to make them fully the center of their story. The victim and the hero are the same, and if anyone is going to avenge Cassie, she will do it herself, with the help of her righteously angry friends.

By using figures from Greek mythology, and reframing the stories we tell about violence, I got to make Cassie’s message clear: We are the heroes of our own stories, and no one is allowed to rewrite us.

Meet the author

Image Description: author photo Kyrie McCauley
Image Source: author


Kyrie McCauley spent her childhood climbing trees in dresses and reading books during class. She is the author of If These Wings Could Fly, recipient of the 2021 William C. Morris Award. Kyrie holds a Master of Science in Social Policy from the University of Pennsylvania, and has worked in advocacy and development for non-profit organizations. She lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with her family, three rescue cats, and a dog that eats books and is never sorry.


Author Website: kyriemccauley.com
Resources on Violence: https://www.kyriemccauley.com/resources
Author Twitter: @kyriemccauley
Author Instagram: @kyriemccauley


About We Can Be Heroes

We Can Be Heroes

Kyrie McCauley, author of the William C. Morris YA Debut Award winner If These Wings Could Fly, delivers a powerful contemporary YA novel about the lasting bonds of friendship and three girls fighting for each other in the aftermath of a school shooting. Perfect for fans of Laura Ruby and Mindy McGinnis.

Beck and Vivian never could stand each other, but they always tried their best for their mutual friend, Cassie. After the town moves on from Cassie’s murder too fast, Beck and Vivian finally find common ground: vengeance.

They memorialize Cassie by secretly painting murals of her around town, a message to the world that Cassie won’t be forgotten. But Beck and Vivian are keeping secrets, like the third passenger riding in Beck’s VW bus with them—Cassie’s ghost. 

When their murals catch the attention of a podcaster covering Cassie’s case, they become the catalyst for a debate that Bell Firearms can no longer ignore. With law enforcement closing in on them, Beck and Vivian hurry to give Cassie the closure she needs—by delivering justice to those responsible for her death.

ISBN-13: 9780062885050
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/07/2021
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

Book Review: The Problem with the Other Side by Kwame Ivery

Publisher’s description

A searing YA debut that follows the joys, complexities, and heartbreaks of an interracial romance between high school sophomores that blossoms during a volatile school election

Uly would rather watch old Westerns with his new girlfriend, Sallie, than get involved in his school’s politics—why focus on the “bad” and “ugly” when his days with Sallie are so good? His older sister Regina feels differently. She is fed up with the way white school-body presidential candidate Leona Walls talks about Black students. Regina decides to run against Leona . . . and convinces Uly to be her campaign manager.

Sallie has no interest in managing her sister’s campaign, but how could she say no? After their parents’ death, Leona is practically her only family. Even after Leona is accused of running a racist campaign that targets the school’s students of color—including Sallie’s boyfriend, Uly—Sallie wants to give her sister the benefit of the doubt. But how long can she ignore the ugly truth behind Leona’s actions? 

Together and apart, Uly and Sallie must navigate sibling loyalty and romantic love as the campaign spirals toward a devastating conclusion. 

CW: Acts of racism and bigotry, racist language, and gun violence are portrayed in this novel.

Amanda’s thoughts

Do you want to read a book with a character you can just totally and completely dislike? Without wondering “do I just think she’s unlikeable because I find her challenging?” and then interrogating what “unlikeable” really means and the weight it carries and how society has tried to train you to view girls and women in certain ways etc? Then settle on down with this book. Leona, sister of main character Sallie, is AWFUL. No redeeming qualities, straight up racist bigot nightmare, horrible human being AWFUL. She maybe wins my Worst Person in YA 2021 award.

This school election is nasty. Uly, who is Black, and Sallie, who is white, are dating. They’re cute—all obsessed with each other and stuff. I like them, even if I find their teen-speak exhausting (listen, if my teen started to say “real talk” or “bacon” or “corduroy” as many times as these teens do, I would have to find a spell to banish those words from his brain). Their sisters, Regina and Leona, are running against each other for student-body president. Leona, who is white, is basically running on a “Make Knight High Great Again” kind of platform. She literally says she wants to get rid of the kids who “have no business being at this school” (pg 50). She means the kids who come from the nearby small and poor towns. Guess what? Most of them are not white. She wants to send them “back where they belong” and she wants to “Turn Knight Back to Day.” Sallie gets roped into being her campaign manager, then Uly gets roped into doing the same with his sister. Plenty of students support Leona and her racism, but plenty are disgusted. And then there’s Sallie. Leona is nearly her only family (both birth parents are dead and they live with their stepmother) and Sallie just cannot wrap her mind around the fact that her sister is super duper racist. As you might imagine, tension arises between Uly and Sallie. And things get way, WAY out of control at school. There’s vandalism, confederate flags, attacks, hateful comments, transphobia, sexism, racism, white supremacy, and violence. In fact, page one of this book shows us a newspaper headline stating two dead on school inauguration day. So you know that despite the cute romance, this is not in any way going to be a light book or an easy read. It’s serious and sad and actually pretty devastating.

I look forward to more from Ivery. He’s got a good ear for realistic teen dialogue (even if I now never, ever want to hear the words “bacon” or “corduroy” in any context) and created interesting characters. I think the summary of the book makes it pretty clear what you’re going to get—this isn’t a romantic comedy or even just a romance. It’s a deep look at the extremes that have cropped up in the United States and shows how they affect teens, high school politics, and day-to-day life. Hand this book to readers ready for a heavy read with plenty of tragedy.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781641292054
Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 09/07/2021
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

Book Review: The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis

Publisher’s description

A raw, powerful, but ultimately uplifting debut novel perfect for fans of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe from debut author Angelo Surmelis.

Seventeen-year-old Evan Panos doesn’t know where he fits in. His strict immigrant Greek mother refuses to see him as anything but a disappointment. His quiet, workaholic father is a staunch believer in avoiding any kind of conflict. And his best friend, Henry, has somehow become distractingly attractive over the summer.

Tired, isolated, scared—Evan finds that his only escape is to draw in an abandoned monastery that feels as lonely as he is. And yes, he kissed one guy over the summer. But it’s Henry who’s now proving to be irresistible. Henry, who suddenly seems interested in being more than friends. And it’s Henry who makes him believe that he deserves more than his mother’s harsh words and terrifying abuse.

But as things with Henry heat up, and his mother’s abuse escalates, Evan has to decide how to find his voice in a world where he has survived so long by being silent.

This is a powerful and revelatory coming-of-age novel based on the author’s own childhood, about a boy who learns to step into his light.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

dangerous artThis was a rough read. The abuse and homophobia are nonstop. Though this is absolutely a worthwhile read and is very well written, readers need to know going in that Evan suffers a lot at the hands of his peers and his own mother.

Illinois 17-year-old Evan Panos spends most of his life hiding and hoping to fly under the radar. His extremely abusive Greek mother has spent his whole life hurting him, telling him he’s ugly and a sinner, that she wishes he were gone, as she beats him. Though not out, his religious mother has lived in fear that Evan is gay (“deviant”), bringing in other devout members from their church to pray that he’s released from this “demon.” His father doesn’t agree with his wife’s tactics, but also doesn’t (generally) intervene. Evan’s cuts and bruises don’t go unnoticed, but he explains them away by telling people he’s just incredibly clumsy and falls a lot. But everything starts to change when Evan and his lifelong best friend, Henry, realize they’re falling for each other. Evan is so afraid to trust anyone, and even though Henry is his best friend, he has his reasons for being hesitant (reasons that go beyond what his mother will do to him if she finds out about any of this). Can Evan begin to reveal the many secret sides to his life, or will revealing those secrets be the thing that ends him?

 

Like I said, this is a hard read. Evan has virtually no support. Even as adults begin to figure out, or suspect, what has been happening to him, no one intervenes. His mother is unrelentingly abusive and all of the scenes of violence are right there on the page. To watch that, and to watch Evan try to explain it all away, is heartbreaking. His classmates constantly accuse him of being gay, hurling disgusting slurs around. What he has with Henry is lovely, if at times complicated, but the romance takes a backseat to the story of the abuse. Make sure readers who pick this up also realize there are plenty of books about happy, accepted, safe gay kids, too. The author includes a note at the end, talking about how the his own personal story mirrored Evan’s, and resources for help. A powerful and devastating read with some of the worst physical and emotional abuse I’ve ever seen in a YA book. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062659002
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/30/2018

Book Review: American Street by Ibi Zoboi

Publisher’s description

american-streetAmerican Street is an evocative and powerful coming-of-age story perfect for fans of Everything, Everything; Bone Gap; and All American Boys. In this stunning debut novel, Pushcart-nominated author Ibi Zoboi draws on her own experience as a young Haitian immigrant, infusing this lyrical exploration of America with magical realism and vodou culture.

On the corner of American Street and Joy Road, Fabiola Toussaint thought she would finally find une belle vie—a good life.

But after they leave Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess; the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school; and a surprising romance, all on her own.

Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola soon realizes that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

A book that begins with someone being detained by immigration agents at the airport? How extremely timely.

Fabiola and her mother leave Haiti and are on their way to Detroit to stay with Fabiola’s three cousins and aunt (her mother’s sister), but Fabiola’s mother is detained at JFK and Fabiola must head to Detroit alone. While they say they are just going for a visit, really their plan is to stay. Fabiola was born in Detroit, but went with her mother back to Haiti when she was just a baby. Now, she will finish out her junior year in this new city, with family she has really only known from phone calls, without her mother. Her arrival is greeted with no fanfare—her family is glad to see her, but she’s left to her own devices for dinner and puzzled how everyone just goes about their business so quickly.

 

Before long, she gets to know her cousins better and learns that they are tough girls who no one wants to mess with, girls who are fiercely loyal and protect their family. Fabiola has to figure out what being in Detroit means for her. She maintains rituals and beliefs from her heritage, but also learns how to fit in in her new neighborhood—one that is full of drugs, guns, violence, and secrets. Fabiola relies on vodou and spirits (lwas) to help guide her toward understanding what she needs to do as things get more complex in Detroit. Meanwhile, she’s also started a new relationship with Kasim, the best friend of her cousin Donna’s abusive boyfriend, Dray. Also, don’t forget, she’s trying to figure out how to get her mom, who is now in a detention center in New Jersey, to Detroit. Things take a dramatic turn when Fabiola begins working with a detective who is determined to bust Dray for dealing drugs. In exchange, the detective will help Fabiola’s mother get out of the detention center and get a green card. Wherever you think that part of the story is going, you’re wrong. The many twists and turns that part of the plot takes blew my mind. By the time I got to the end, the only coherent thought I was capable of writing in my notebook was “WHOA.”

 

Zoboi’s debut is complex and gritty (I kind of hate that word, but it gets the job done), with characters that will stick in my mind a long time. Though narrated by Fabiola, we get small first-person passages from all of the other characters, allowing us to know them more deeply. These passages reveal pasts and secrets, some of which will send you reeling. This powerful and well-written story of an immigrant girl’s new life in the United States is absorbing and unpredictable. I hope this finds its way to bookshelves in all public and school libraries. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062473042

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 02/14/2017

Book Review: The Truth of Right Now by Kara Lee Corthron

Publisher’s description

truthTwo isolated teens struggle against their complicated lives to find a true connection in this heartwrenching debut novel about first love and the wreckage of growing up.

Lily is returning to her privileged Manhattan high school after a harrowing end to her sophomore year and it’s not pretty. She hates chemistry and her spiteful lab partner, her friends are either not speaking to her or suffocating her with concerned glances, and nothing seems to give her joy anymore. Worst of all, she can’t escape her own thoughts about what drove her away from everyone in the first place.

Enter Dari (short for Dariomauritius), the artistic and mysterious transfer student, adept at cutting class. Not that he’d rather be at home with his domineering Trinidadian father. Dari is everything that Lily needs: bright, creative, honest, and unpredictable. And in a school where no one really stands out, Dari finds Lily’s sensitivity and openness magnetic. Their attraction ignites immediately, and for the first time in what feels like forever, Lily and Dari find happiness in each other.

In twenty-first-century New York City, the fact that Lily is white and Dari is black shouldn’t matter that much, but nothing’s as simple as it seems. When tragedy becomes reality, can friendship survive even if romance cannot?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

This was my first 2017 read and it was a great one to kick off the new year. You know how last year I was in a horrible reading slump and kept saying that the only stories grabbing me were ones that felt fresh and new, stories that felt like ones we just weren’t seeing enough of? That’s still holding true. And this one roped me in right away because Dari and Lily’s stories are so important. Any story that addresses race as much as this one does is always going to be relevant, not to mention still relatively rare.

 

Lily is not excited for another school year to start. We know she tried to kill herself and we know stories are swirling about her that have made her an outcast/shamed, but the reader doesn’t know right away what happened. I’ll leave it up to you to read that part of her story, but suffice it to say it’s pretty horrific and infuriating. Other than being the object of her classmates’ derision, she’s basically invisible. Her few friends weren’t there for her when she needed them and now Lily can’t really see the point of pretending to get along with anyone–that is, until she meets Dari.

 

Dari generally has his head stuck in his sketchbook or is ditching what he feels are classes that don’t challenge him. Their friendship initially is very much that of two kids who don’t have anyone else but seem content to be kind of quiet and distantly friends in school. But that doesn’t last long, especially for Lily, who pretty quickly develops more intense feelings for Dari. Dari holds her at a bit of a distance. He’s recently broken up with his older girlfriend and spends most of his time at home trying not to piss off his abusive father. After his sister leaves home to move in with her girlfriend, Dari decides to start to push back against his father’s violence, and that’s when the story really takes off. Dari’s father changes the locks to their apartment and Dari temporarily moves in with Lily and her mother. Lily and Dari grow closer and slowly reveal more of their pasts to each other, though there is still much held back and that leads to confusion and hurt feelings.

 

Lily is still reeling over the incidents of the past year and not particularly addressing her mental health needs. She’s tried therapy before and has very negative feelings about therapy and being medicated for her depression. She agrees to see a new therapist for a month and, while still reluctant to talk or get help, has some success. It’s through therapy that we learn more of Lily’s past as her therapist has her keep a journal where she can tell her story. Lily’s mom desperately wants to be a “cool mom” and is part of the problem. She’s a self-help writer trying to work on her second book, after an extremely successful first book, but rather oblivious how to actually help her own kid (or herself, as we see later in the story when she makes a particularly bad choice). Things at school get worse for Lily when a lewd picture of her begins to circulate.

 

Dari is trying to figure out what he will do now that he left home. He figures he can’t crash at Lily’s forever. He’s into Lily, but things just feel too complicated to start dating her, especially now that he’s living with her and her mom. That doesn’t stop Dari and Lily from hooking up, but he’s upfront all the time about how he feels (much to Lily’s dismay). Both Lily and Dari reveal that they are quick to get upset over things and both have violent tendencies. Their lives get pretty tangled up, with Lily looking to Dari for some sense of belonging and happiness and Dari trying to be careful of her feelings as he tries to work out his own stuff. Despite often holding back (and in some cases lying) with each other, they have many honest conversations about their personal lives, particularly about race. Lily is white and Jewish and Dari is black. We see Dari get stopped and frisked at one point for no reason. There are just some things that Lily doesn’t understand about Dari’s life. This comes to a head when they have a public argument and police show up. A pissed off Lily walks away and makes a thoughtless remark to the cops—one that has enormous consequences for Dari.

 

This intense story does not shy away from looking hard at racism, mental illness, the thing from Lily’s past that I’m not spoiling, and people making really horrible choices. Alternating viewpoints give the reader more of a peek into Dari and Lily’s minds and help keep the emotional tension high. This was one of those books where I read it as a nearly 40-year-old adult and just keep thinking about how *young* these characters are. They go through so much–things no one should have to go through at any age.  I have already flipped back a couple of times to read the very end, where Corthron gives the reader one last harsh truth. This isn’t always an easy read, but it’s absolutely an important one. Read this one and be ready to talk about racism, violence, sexual choices, and the many ways adults in this story screw up and damage the children in this book. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss 

ISBN-13: 9781481459471

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Publication date: 01/03/2017

The Need For Realistic, Compassionate Portrayals of Sexual Violence In LGBTQIA+ (and all YA) Lit, a guest post by Cheryl Rainfield

By Cheryl Rainfield, author of YA novels SCARS, STAINED, HUNTED, and PARALLEL VISIONS (@CherylRainfield)

 

cheryl-books-prideWhen I was a child and teen, I lived through daily/nightly rape, torture, and mind control at the hands of my parents and other abusers; my parents belonged to intergenerational, interconnected cults. I was also queer. When people hear that, they often ask me if I’m lesbian because I was raped. My answer—and that of my queer survivor characters—is a resounding no. I was raped by both men and women in the cult, and by both of my parents, grandparents, and other relatives. Each rape traumatized, disgusted, and terrified me, no matter which gender raped me. And if rape could make survivors queer, then there’d be a heck of a lot more queer people in the world since at least 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys have experienced sexual abuse by the time they reach age 18Queer teens experience more rape than heterosexuals and have to face homophobia on top of it—sometimes in the form of rape, being beaten, being turned out of our families and homes, or other forms of hatred and  fear turned on us. I think we need books that talk about these experiences in an honest and real way. LGB teens are four times as likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual teens and half of transgender teens have seriously thought of suicide and 1 in 4 attempt it.

LGBTQIA+ teens (and adults) need to know they’re not alone and it can get better, and LGBTQIA+ survivors of rape, abuse, sexual violence, and torture need to know it even more.

 

#WeNeedDiverseBooks-lgbtq-rainfieldI felt so alone and in so much pain as a child and teen; I wanted to die most of the time and did actually try a few times to kill myself. I desperately wanted to know that I wasn’t alone, that I wasn’t the only one going through these horrific experiences or the only one was queer, and I tried to find that in books. I found small bits of validation, such as a character who was bullied or survived incest or a lesbian character, but I didn’t find enough—which is part of why I write the books I do. I write the books I needed to read as a teen and couldn’t find. I want others to know they’re not alone.

When we feel alone in traumatic or painful experiences—including abuse and homophobia—it makes the pain so much worse. I think when we see reflections of ourselves and our experiences, it helps lessen our pain, reassure us that we are not alone, help us feel healthier and happier, learn new ways of coping and surviving, and feel that we, too, can survive since characters with similar issues did.

Reading about characters who’ve experienced similar trauma or painful experiences can also help us decrease our shame, self-blame, and self-hatred; increase our compassion and acceptance for ourselves and others; and give us a tool to talk about the issue with others. And we all deserve to have that.

 

Readers have told me many times that because of my books, they were able to talk to someone for the first time about being queer, their abuse, or their self-harm; get help; stop self-harming; have more compassion for themselves or for someone who is a sexual abuse survivor, queer, or uses self-harm; feel less alone; survive the pain they’re living through; feel stronger in their own lives; and even keep from killing themselves. Books help heal.

 

#WeNeedDiverseBooks-everyone-reflections-rainfieldI don’t think there are enough YA novels with survivors of sexual violence written in a sensitive, realistic way, especially from someone who’s been there and knows what it’s like from the inside out; not enough YA books with queer characters; and definitely not enough books with both. And yet there is a need—not only for the queer community, but also for the world to help lessen homophobia and help increase awareness of sexual violence and its effects. An emotionally honest book about painful experiences can help readers whether they are queer or heterosexual, whether they have experienced sexual violence or some other form of abuse, or even if they haven’t experienced any of that at all but know someone who has. Books help us increase compassion and understanding by temporarily slipping into the soul of the character.

 

 

“Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.” –Joyce Carol Oates

 

cheryl-sometimes-be-own-heroI write about many of the traumatic experiences I’ve been through—rape and incest, self-harm, being queer and experiencing homophobia from a parent in SCARS; rape, being held captive, being withheld food and water in STAINED; oppression, betrayal, and being hunted in HUNTED; homophobic-based rape and gang rape, suicidal thoughts, and depression in PARALLEL VISIONS. I write strong-girl characters, emotionally-strong boy characters, and both queer and heterosexual characters who help each other. I try to write queer characters, characters of color, and characters with mental- or physical-health issues into my books, reflecting our real world. And I also write about many of the techniques I’ve used to heal and cope—creating art, seeing a therapist, talking to friends, reading comics and collecting superhero items, creating my own superhero from myself.

I always write strong-girl characters who have to save themselves. That is what I had to do—rescue myself—over and over again until I was finally safe.

I write honestly from my own trauma and healing experiences, opening up to my intense emotions, bleeding them out onto the page so the reader can feel. So that they understand—whether they’ve been through something similar or not. So that if they’ve been through it, they know they’re not alone.

 

And I show some of the possible side effects from rape, sexual abuse, trauma, and abuse—PTSD, dissociation, cheryl-superman-tanxiety, panic attacks, depression, suicidal thoughts, self-harm, isolation—all things I’ve experienced and know well. It’s important to me to show what the effects of rape and sexual violence are really like. They leave deep emotional scars. It’s not something we walk away from and shrug off like a second skin—the way some movies, TV shows, and comics suggest. And it’s not something that I think should ever be used just for dramatic effect or to make another (usually male) character become a hero. If we don’t show the intense pain, despair, depression, and other resulting effects from  rape and trauma, I think we are doing us all a great disservice by telling survivors, perpetrators, and everyone else that sexual violence leaves no trauma or side effects aside from the physical. I believe that the worst and deepest wounds aren’t physical, but are emotional and psychological. So it’s important to me to write realistic stories of sexual violence and trauma that teens can relate to, and yet are also full of hope and healing.

 

cheryl-rainfield-nobody-knows-im-lesbianIt’s also important to me to write books where the queer characters are happy with their sexuality—not just books where the character is coming out, but books where the story is about something else and the character just happens to be queer—and books where the queer characters are in relatively happy, healthy, consensual relationships, where the tension and strife is coming most from the outside, and a queer character doesn’t get penalized or killed off because they’re queer. I think books with queer characters can help normalize being queer, fight homophobia and hatred, and increase compassion.

Queer readers need books we can enjoy and experience the way heterosexuals can most any time they pick up a book—and heterosexual readers need to be exposed to queer characters as just a reflection of the world we live in.

 

I think there is a great need for LGBTQIA+ YA books that have positive queer characters, that explore rape, abuse, homophobia, and trauma in realistic, sensitive, and hopeful ways, and that include both. I hope to see many more such books in the future. I will keep writing the books I need to. And I hope that you will read, write, or share the books you need to, the books that help you feel alive or the books that moved you. Read on!

 

Meet Cheryl Rainfield

CHERYLCheryl Rainfield is the author of the award-winning SCARS, a novel about a queer teen sexual abuse survivor who uses self-harm to cope; the award-winning HUNTED, a novel about a teen telepath in a world where any paranormal power is illegal; STAINED, about a teen who is abducted and must rescue herself; and PARALLEL VISIONS, about a teen who sees visions and must save a friend. Cheryl Rainfield is a lesbian feminist, incest and ritual abuse torture survivor, and an avid reader and writer. She lives in Toronto with her little dog Petal.

Cheryl Rainfield has been said to write with “great empathy and compassion” (VOYA) and to write stories that “can, perhaps, save a life.” (CM Magazine)  SLJ said of her work: “[readers] will be on the edge of their seats.”

You can find Cheryl on her website CherylRainfield.com or her blog http://www.CherylRainfield.com/blog, on Twitter: http://www.Twitter.com/CherylRainfield, Instagram: http://www.Instagram.com/CherylRainfield, and FaceBook http://www.facebook.com/CherylRainfield.

Sex and Consent in LGBT Manga, a guest post by Eden Grey

by Eden Grey (@edenjeangrey)

In this post I would like to explore the differences between portrayals of sex in lesbian and gay manga and heterosexual romance stories in manga. By manga I mean graphic novels originally published in Japan, by Japanese authors and artists. In most libraries, manga is confined to the Young Adult Collection. In some libraries, such as mine, there are manga in both YA and the Adult graphic novel sections. Determining where to shelve particular manga, especially those with LGBT themes, can be confusing and challenging because the ratings given to the books don’t always reflect the explicitness of the content.

 

In general, heterosexual romance manga is lighthearted, there is rarely on-page sex, and both parties consent to whatever sexual action does happen. Some of the most popular romance manga include Nisekoi: False Love, Ai Ore! Love Me!, and Alice in the Country of Hearts.  There are notable exceptions, but I would like to talk about the majority of manga stories. In gay manga, on the other hand, there is frequently on-page sex, frequently questionable consent, and undertones of violence.

 

In many American-published, adult romance fiction, with both straight and gay characters, there are frequently themes of sexual violence and forced sexual interactions. Pick up any Harlequin romance and it’s likely to have a situation of dubious consent. These novels are intended as a fantasy for readers, and they are enjoyed by a large readership of adult women. However, the biggest audience for LGBT manga, at least in the United States, is young adults.

 

Should we be sharing these stories with our teens? Is it our place to decide what kind of sex they should and should not have access to? Is the answer as simple as ordering popular and requested manga and placing the explicit ones in the Adult section? These are questions rarely asked or discussed in Libraryland, and that’s really unfortunate. If we’re ordering these manga for our teens we should be discussing the sexual violence in them with readers. We should use this as an opportunity to talk about the issue of consent.

 

Below I will list several of the most popular manga with LGBT romances, as well as those commonly found in libraries. Ratings for these series can be looked up on the publisher’s website. I personally have most of these in my library’s collection, with everything except Whispered Words in the adult section or only available as an ebook. Most of them were requested by teen patrons.

 

Author’s Pet by Deathco Cotorino

The story of a single couple thrown together by chance. The gullible Yuuta is forced into oweing the mysterious author Tsubaki a big favor, and he ends up helping him write his romance novels. The men become involved, with Tsubaki taking the initiative in their seemingly one-sided relationship.

 

Apple and Honey by Hideyoshico

Features the story of 2 gay couples, set during the summer season. The characters are ordinary adults, going to college and working day jobs while pursuing their hobbies. The relationships take time to develop, but by the end of the volume the characters are having explicit sex.

 

Whispered Words by Takashi Ikeda 

The story of 2 high school girls who have been best friends since childhood. Ushio like cute girls (like Sumika!) but Sumika prefers tough, athletic girls. Will they ever be able to confess their feelings?

 

Private Teacher! by Yuu Moegi 

Rintarou needs a private tutor, but he also gets a lover with Kaede-san, who enjoys punishing Rintarou’s poor academic performance some unique punishment. Kaede’s sexual advances quickly become dominating and Rintarou starts questioning the feelings he has for his tutor.

author's petapple honeywhispered worldsprivate teacher

 

Junjou Romantica by Shungiku Nakimura 

The story of several gay couples who are connected through their work at a publishing company. The tone of the story is lighthearted and comedic, while the relationships can get unexpectedly serious and intense.

 

Citrus by Saburo Uta

When her mom marries a rich businessman, Yuzu must move to a new home and switch to an all-girls school. Yuzu is a fashionista and frequently gets in trouble with the student council president, Mei, who also happens to be her new step-sister. Yuzu finds herself inexplicably attracted to Mei and jealous of the attention she receives from other girls and boys. Their attraction escalates quickly, despite the potentially taboo nature of it.

 

What Did You Eat Yesterday? by Fumi Yoshinaga

The story of a single middle-aged male couple living together in Tokyo. Shiro loves cooking more than anything, and the chapters are organized around their meals together. The chapters also feature delicious and authentic Japanese recipes! A simple yet clever slice-of-life story.

 

Wolf Magic by Natsuki Zippo 

A collection of alternating short stories told in a casual, slice-of-life style about a variety of unlikely gay couples. The writing is clever and the art is well-done. The relationships quickly become serious, due to the stories being very short; they swiftly become sexual and explicit.

junjocitruswhat did you eatwolf magic

 

Meet Eden Grey

EDEN

Eden Grey is the Young Adult Programming Librarian at the busiest branch library in Kentucky. Eden is a reviewer for Young Adult Books Central and School Library Journal. When she is not herding cats -ahem, teens- at the library, Eden can be found reading, knitting, sewing, cosplaying, and playing Pokemon. You can always find her on Twitter @edenjeangrey.

Violence in LGBTIQ Fiction for Young Adults, a guest post by Rob Bittner

By Rob Bittner (@r_bittner)

 

altheaI was originally approached to do some work on sexual violence, YA literature, and LGBTQ themes because of a post that I wrote about the novel Althea & Oliver by Cristina Moracho. There is much to love about the book, save for the incredibly problematic notion of rape against the male protagonist, which seems to be lessened throughout the novel because the perpetrator is a girl. Some see that assertion as too simplistic, but if you want to see a more full discussion, see the post by TLT on the novel. Though that was only one novel, I was later contacted by TLT and I found myself thinking more and more about violence against sexualized others in texts for young adults.

 

 

I am not a specialist in the area of sexual violence, but I do try to keep up with statistics and information on the subject. Stats on sexual violence against LGBTQ populations in real life are terribly disheartening:[1]

  • Approximately 1 in 8 lesbian women (13%), nearly half of bisexual women (46%), and 1 in 6 heterosexual women (17%) have been raped in their lifetime. This translates to an estimated 214,000 lesbian women, 1.5 million bisexual women, and 19 million heterosexual women.
  • Four in 10 gay men (40%), nearly half of bisexual men (47%), and 1 in 5 heterosexual men (21%) have experienced SV other than rape in their lifetime. This translates into nearly 1.1 million gay men, 903,000 bisexual men, and 21.6 million heterosexual men.
  • approximately 50% of transgender people experience sexual violence at some point in their lifetime.[2]

 

While I understand that authors often include these instances of violence in order to lend a sense of realism to the story, I feel that having an overabundance of such situations in YA gives the impression that to come out as L, G, B, T, I, Q, etc., inevitably leads to violence or unavoidable negative consequences. The same goes for uses of homophobic/transphobic language in novels as a way of realistically portraying the cruelty of homophobic/transphobic individuals. The use of such language, however, also troubles many readers who hear these words being hurled at them in real life. Sometimes I think it’s okay to have a book that contains challenges for characters, and references life’s complexities, without necessarily including scenes of violence and/or homophobic language.

 

Why do I seem to be focusing so much on language in a post about sexualized violence, though? I feel that it’s creepsimportant to remember that sexual violence can take multiple forms, both physical and emotional (brought on by verbal and psychological attacks), among others. I recently reviewed the novel Creeps (2013) by Darren Hynes, which features a young protagonist who identifies as straight and cisgender, but that doesn’t stop secondary characters from engaging in acts of psychological and physical violence against the main character. The homophobic attitudes in particular, and the use of derogatory terminology for gay and lesbian individuals is excessive. While homophobia and bullying are a grievous part of everyday life for many young people no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity, the book fails to move beyond these instances of assault and violence, which unfortunately mirror similar acts which take place in so many LGBTQ novels for young audiences.

 

Many YA novels feature scenes of assault on individuals who identify on gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, etc, and as mentioned earlier, this is usually because the novels use such instances of abuse as indicative of a sense of realism. Unfortunately, this also serves to further the expectation that existing as other than straight means to expect or be deserving of assault of some kind. These moments tend to include homophobic commentary as well as physical violence based upon physical difference, a fact that is much more explicit in novels with transgender, intersex, sexual, or gender nonconforming characters. Here are three examples:

 

dream boyJim Grimsley’s Dream Boy for example, features the rape of the main character, Nathan, by another boy from school after he discovers Nathan and Roy during an intimate moment. The boy traps Nathan in an abandoned plantation house, rapes him, and beats him unconscious. This disturbing event is compounded when, during the rape, Nathan’s mind flashes to past memories of being sexually abused by his father. The implication of the flashback is unclear, but it seems to indicate that sexual abuse is at the root of Nathan’s homosexuality. And even if this is not the intent, it hearkens back to novels that underscore the general harshness associated with queer literature of the 80s and 90s, that is, the emotional and physical violence that befalls Nathan because of the sexual acts associated with physical intimacy between him and Roy.

 

Jack Gantos’ Desire Lines (1997) is also a good example of the trope of homosexuality as desirenot necessarily evil, but leading inevitably to negative consequences. Seen through the eyes of a sexually ambiguous narrator, the story is of two lesbians who, exposed to the overly fundamentalist son of a pastor, eventually attempt a murder–suicide. While Desire Lines not only provides homosexual teens with a negative scenario leading to tragic consequences, it also distorts religion, even if it does mirror some real-life “Christian” congregations. Gantos’ treatment of religious fundamentalism results in Christianity being portrayed as a destructive force that leads to ultimate tragedy for the lesbian couple.

 

 

golden boyA recent Alex Award novel, Golden Boy (2013), by Abigail Tarttelin, features an intersex protagonist whose identity is not fully realized or understood until after a particularly violent episode. When Max’s old childhood friend, Hunter, arrives on the scene, he is quick to take advantage of the situation and rapes Max upon discovery of his physical difference. The violation of his body leads Max to question his gender identity, sexuality, and his self-worth. This novel is a prime example of how sexual violence causes incredible psychological damage, and the addition of violence because of physical or sexual difference is an incredibly complex issue.

 

 

Furthermore, many of the more popular queer YA novels that are seen as “literary” are those centering on tragic events: October Mourning (2012), Luna (2004), Almost Perfect (2010), and many others. The fact that these instances of violence are such a commonplace event within queer fiction for young readers is not terribly helpful either, as fiction is so often seen as a mirror of reality, thus leaving young queer readers with the impression that sexual violence is simply an inevitable part of growing up “different.” I can only hope that the future of queer literature sees a more positive turn in portrayals of queer experience, not necessarily entirely free of violence—realism is, after all, not always happy—but at least with more uplifting components.

 

[1] Walters, M.L., Chen J., & Breiding, M.J. (2013). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Findings on Victimization by Sexual Orientation. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved fromhttp://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/nisvs_sofindings.pdf

 

[2] Stotzer, R. (2009). Violence against transgender people: A review of United States data. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 14, 170-179.

 

Meet Rob Bittner

rob bittnerRob Bittner is a PhD candidate in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University, and he has a history of working with children’s and YA literature in various contexts, including his MA degree and various award committees through the American Library Association. He loves queer lit and especially loves when it engages with topics that are “out of the ordinary.”