And now for something not completely different

TLT

 

I’m not big on any new year, new me kinds of things. I don’t make resolutions, really, unless you count things like my intentions to read a lot, write a lot, and drink a lot of coffee. But those aren’t resolutions—they’re ways of being—and anyway they’re the same thing I think every year. That said, the start of a new year is a good time to shake things up.

 

From now on, you’ll be able to find all of my blogging taking place at Teen Librarian Toolbox.

 

Joining TLT, getting to know Karen, Heather, and Robin, and being networked with School Library Journal were definitely highlights of 2014. The blog has led me to so many fantastic conversations and people, and I look forward to spending more time writing for it this year.

 

When I quit my library job in September of 2013, I wasn’t really sure what I was doing. I was on month 9 of settling my dad’s estate after he died (a task I didn’t finish until November 2013, at great financial and emotional expense). I was exhausted, stressed, and feeling a little (early) mid-life crisis-y. I knew I’d miss the teenagers at the high school, but it was time to go. A semi-reckless “if not now, when?” attitude had gripped me, and when I said, “I think I need to quit my job and really try this writing thing” to my husband, he was completely behind the idea.

 

All I knew was I wanted to write more. I hoped to find another avenue to review books. I wanted to blog. I wanted to write a novel. I wanted to find some freelance work. And you know what? All of those things happened. I added reviewing for School Library Journal to my review work with Voice of Youth Advocates and Horn Book. I started this blog, which led me to lots of interactions on Twitter with great people, and ultimately led me to Karen asking me to join TLT and starting blogging there, not yet knowing we would soon become a School Library Journal-networked blog. I wrote a novel. I revised that novel. It’s being read by another human right now (reader, I married him), will be revised again, and then who knows what. I’ve spent 4 months working on a freelance project for an educational publisher that has been so fun, challenging, and satisfying. I get to still see my teen minions by running the YA book club and helping facilitate the TAB at the public library. I get to volunteer every week in my kid’s classroom and help kids with reading. My brain is much happier, in January 2015, than it was in September 2013 when I started down this path. Not sure where else it will lead, but I’m having a blast finding out.

 

My next post for TLT is scheduled for next Tuesday, and I’ll be talking about Shaun David Hutchinson’s The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley. Thanks for helping make Cite Something so fun—I hope you’ll follow me over to Teen Librarian Toolbox! Catch me on Twitter (way too much) at @CiteSomething. 

My Favorites of 2014: Zines

zinesThe largest series of posts I did in 2014 was about the zines I made as a teenager in the 90s. The series includes two introductory posts about zines and 16 posts that share bits and pieces of all of the zines I produced. It was a little rough going back to read through my teenage writing (oh, the angst!), but at least it prepared me for later in the year when I decided to reread my teenage diaries.

 

From my final post in the series:

Sitting here now, at 36, and having this sort of bizarre archive of my teenage years, being able to access so much of my past self, the thing that strikes me–more than the angst, more than the shitty poetry, more than the ranting–is the intensity. I was intense. I loved things intensely; I hated things intensely; I had big feelings about lots of things and no hesitation in giving myself over to those things and spilling my guts about them on paper.

Making a zine was the best thing teenage me could have done. It pulled me out of my tiny town and showed me a whole world of interesting people and possibilities, a world of other kids sitting in their rooms creating zines, trading ideas, searching for connections and outlets.

After high school, I got a letter one day from an author who was writing a young adult novel where the main characters wrote zines. This author had read my zine and wondered if I’d tell her a little bit more about it–how I started, why I wrote, stuff like that. I wrote her a few letters, sent her a few more zines. That author? Ellen Wittlinger. The book? Hard Love. 

 

The pre-zine-making Amanda could not even conceive of the world that I eventually found and called home. A world where I could turn the endless scribbling in my notebooks into things other people would read, where I’d make friends with other kids doing the same thing, where I’d feel less on the fringes and more in the middle of something–the middle of something that mattered. Where I’d feel inspired and excited, where I’d meet people I’m still in touch with today, where I’d feel less alone in my angsty alienation–like maybe we were all just angsty and alienated. I wrote like it was the only thing that was keeping me sane, like it was something Ihad to do, like it was keeping me alive. And some days, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration when I look back at that time and think, yeah, making a zine really was what kept me going, what both led me to my self and saved me from myself.  Pretty good for a bunch of photocopied and stapled pages.

 

Check out the series about the cut-and-paste revolution. 

My Favorites of 2014: 80s and 90s young adult literature

yoreSome of the most fun I had this year on Twitter was asking about what YA novels from the 80s and 90s people remembered reading. I had hoped I’d get a few responses, and was thrilled when I got more than a hundred great responses and had to turn the post into a five-part series of posts. For your own trip down memory lane, check out all of the posts:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

 

In the posts, you’ll find lots of titles and reasons why people loved them. I wrote a little about my own child and teen reading habits:

So now we’ve seen lots of other people’s favorite books from their teen years, but what about mine? As you might guess, I read a lot as a kid and as a teen (the 80s and 90s–St. Peter High School class of 1996). My habit is still about a book a day, but back when I was younger, I’d often go through a few books in a day . As a teenager, I tended to be awake most of night, so I’d just keep reading until I finally gave in to sleep. I read a lot of books by the authors mentioned in the past week (and yes, some of the books are not really YA, but more things we as young adults were reading at that time, and yes, some of the books are pre-1980. If this were an academic article, I’d be more concerned about those details, but for this informal survey, we’re going to give that stuff a pass). Honestly, I really read just about anything I could get my hands on. I read giant stacks of books from the school library and my teachers’ classroom libraries. We would make weekly trips to B. Dalton, where I’d beeline straight to the back of the store to grab a paperback–often Christopher Pike, Lois Duncan, SVH, etc. A precocious reader (as many of us were), I was into those books by about age 9 or 10, and had moved on to a steady diet of adult literature (Joyce Carol Oates, John Irving, Douglas Coupland, Kurt Vonnegut, lots of classics) by junior high. I wasn’t a particularly discerning reader–if I came across it, I’d read it. My parents, an English teacher and a high school principal, were big readers, so I’d often swipe whatever they were reading. I read fast and didn’t believe in leaving much time to digest a book–I was always ready to crack open a new book the second I set the old one down. 

 

I also delved a bit into the history of 80s and 90s YA, too:

Let’s look a little bit at what he says about YA in the 80s. Talking about the popularity of the romance genre in 80s YA, he writes: “Publishers had decided that after years of being deluged with young adult books dealing with the unhappy realities of life, such as divorce, pregnancy outside of marriage, alcoholism, mental illness, and lately child abuse, teenagers seem to want to read about something closer to their daily lives” (p 99).  He goes on to talk about important elements in the rise of and shape of YA lit in the 80s, discussing marketing, the emergence of the chain bookstores, the creation of paperback originals, the beginnings of truly multicultural lit, and the increased purchasing power of teenagers.

Of the 90s, Cart notes that weakening sales were leading some to wonder if YA was dying out. At the very least, he writes, the genre was in turmoil. He discusses the rise of the paperback horror novel (specifically Stine and Pike) and again notes the spending power of young adults shopping in chain bookstores. He writes, “It is now the buyers for the chains…who dictate how we define “young adults.” For them, YAs are now 11 t0 13- or 14-year-olds” (150). He goes on to look at how this block of teenagers and their spending power shaped the acquisition of YA hardcover books and spurred the continued growth of paperback originals. In the early 90s, he writes, chains weren’t going to buy anything with difficult or controversial content, because that wasn’t what teen readers were looking for. The focus in this decade, from Cart’s perspective, was on marketing, paperbacks vs hardcovers, sales, and the continued problem of creating sophisticated YA novels and helping them find their audience.

 

Follow the links to check out the posts—you might be surprised by what titles people are remembering!

Book Review: Geek Girl by Holly Smale

geek girlTitle: Geek Girl

Author: Holly Smale

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

ISBN-13: 9780062333575

Publication date: 1/27/2015

Source of book: I received an advanced copy of this book via the publishers through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Series: Geek Girl series #1

 

Summary (via Goodreads):

Geek + runway = a hilarious runaway hit! This bestselling UK debut is full of humor and high-fashion hijinks—and now it’s coming to America.

Harriet Manners is tired of being labeled a geek. So when she’s discovered by a modeling agent, she seizes the chance to reinvent herself. There’s only one problem: Harriet is the definition of awkward. Does she have what it takes to transform from geek to chic?

Geek Girl is the first book in a hilarious new trilogy. It was also the #1 bestselling YA debut of 2013 in the UK, where it was shortlisted for the Roald Dahl Funny Prize and won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize for Best Book for Teens. With all the humor and fabulous shenanigans of Louise Rennison’s Confessions of Georgia Nicolson and Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries, Geek Girl is about to become an international superstar.

 

Review:

I know you just probably read the paragraph directly above here. I kind of wish you—and I—hadn’t. It sets up enormous expectations, which, for me, were not met. The book was indeed, at times, quite funny. The premise is not original at all—with a little makeover, the already attractive “geek” turns out to be a bombshell. Neither is the message of the book—be true to yourself. Actually, about 50 pages in, I considered abandoning this one. There are so many other books to read, so why stick with something that feels mediocre? But the thing is, somewhere in this book, there’s a nugget of it being good. When it’s funny, it’s really funny.

 

Harriet Manners is an enjoyably geeky character. She makes lists, is awkward, is bullied, and is pretty sure she’s losing her best friend. She’s the kind of character I’m drawn to: someone who doesn’t have it all figured it, and is not wholly one thing or another. Harriet hides under tables when she panics, makes a bubble chart to track all of the lies she and her dad are telling, and blurts out strange facts at inappropriate times. Super-geek Toby follows her around everywhere. He’s a little insufferable, but good-hearted and there for her when she needs him. But her best friend Nat, who I feel like we barely get to know, is not as well drawn, nor is Wilbur, the scout from the modeling agency. Think of the most outrageously stereotyped depiction of a gay guy that you can come up with. That’s Wilbur. It’s too bad he’s so flat and verges on offensive—he gets some hilarious lines. I don’t mind there being very little plot, but if there’s no real plot, I expect the characters to carry the story and make me want to stick around. They didn’t do that for me.

 

Partially I think I stuck this book out because I generally like YA books set somewhere in contemporary England. Partially it was because my kid was home sick, I’d worked all day on freelance stuff, and reading a not particularly challenging book seemed okay. Here’s why I think this book will still find a pretty good audience in America: the cliched “geek to chic” makeover movies of the 80s and 90s that we adults grew weary of are maybe not as well-known to today’s teenagers, so perhaps this trope isn’t as overdone for them as it is for me, at 37. The book is fun and light. It’s wish-fulfillment with a good reminder that being yourself is the best choice there is. Comparing it to Georgia Nicolson made me expect something wonderful (because damn do I love those books), but, as a recent email discussion with my fellow TLTers uncovered, not a ton of teens are reading those books anymore. This is one where I kind of can’t wait for an actual teen I know to read it and get his or her reaction.

 

If you’ve read Geek Girl, I’d love to hear your take. Catch me on Twitter @CiteSomething. 

Links:

Author’s website

Author’s Twitter

My Favorites of 2014: Talking about sexual violence in YA lit with a teen book club

TLT

Possibly my favorite thing that I’ve written all year is the first post I did for Teen Librarian Toolbox back in September. The post, “Talking About Sexual Violence in Young Adult Literature with a Teen Book Club,” is important to me because of the extremely honest and fascinating talk I had with my book club members about rape and sexual violence.

 

From my post:

After the meeting, some of the members chose to send me further thoughts. One member shared with me that this was the first time she discussed sexual violence with a group. “I liked how comfortable I felt discussing what I had read with the group. In other situations, mentioning to someone that I had read a book about sexual violence usually ended with an odd look and an abrupt ending to any discussion I had hoped to spark.” She goes on to say that she valued the open discussion we had. “It’s what I wish I could have with a teacher, a friend, even a sibling without feeling weird for bringing it up.” She says she wishes we had had even more time to discuss our books and this topic because talking “about a topic that society seems to shy away from isn’t an opportunity I get often.”

Another member wrote, “This was the first time I’ve read a book about sexual violence. It made me feel uncomfortable because the character wasn’t able to do anything to stop what was happening. I wish she could have.”

I was proud of how respectful and insightful the book club members were during this meeting. We could easily have spent multiple meetings discussing this topic. Though the subject was, obviously, very serious and at times difficult to talk about, one member smartly pointed out, “the only thing that made me uncomfortable with this topic was that these fictional stories are something that is happening daily to real people.” For many of the teens, it was the first time they really considered sexual violence in literature and in real life. I hope other teen book clubs are taking the opportunity to utilize the SVYALit resources and tackling this subject in their meetings. The experience our book club had was invaluable, and I think we all walked away feeling much more educated about sexual violence not just in literature but in life. To be able to speak openly about such a loaded subject was revolutionary for most of these teenagers. As one member wrote, “Working to rid the topic of its taboo is a great step in bringing awareness and change, and I think YA books written about sexual violence are doing this.”

 

Follow the link above to head on over to TLT for the entire post. Eternally grateful to my brilliant book club kids for this amazing conversation. 

My Favorites of 2014: GLBTQ Resources and National School Climate Results

TLT

There are a few posts I’ve written that have really stuck with me this year, whether it’s because of the content of the post, or the responses I got, or the importance of the subject. Two of my favorite posts that I did this year for Teen Librarian Toolbox are about understanding and supporting LGBTQ teens.

 

In “GLBTQ YA Resources for Building a Collection and Supporting Teens,” I talk about articles and websites for great suggestions on books to add to your collections and suggestions on how to support GLBTQ youth. I think it’s a good roundup of places to go to find a lot of really useful information.

 

In “National School Climate Survey Results About LGBT Students’ Experiences in School,” I summarize key findings in GLSEN’s 2013 survey. From my post:

GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, released its biennial National School Climate Survey, which documents the experiences of LGBTQ students from across the country, in late October. If these statistics shock you, you clearly haven’t spent much time talking to gay students or hanging out in a high school or a middle school.  The good news is that things have improved slightly from their 2011 survey. The bad news is that it’s still really ugly out there.

168 page report (which is available as a PDF and as an hour-long webinar) looks at discrimination, harassment, assault, biased language, school resources and support, and more, and examines how these factors affect educational performance, safety, and mental health of LGBT teens. The report is filled with statistics, charts, and graphs that drive home the point that LGBT students face a lot of opposition at school and frequently don’t feel safe or supported.  Being knowledgeable of their potential struggles and understanding where they (and you!) can go to find useful resources (books, websites, helplines, etc) is a major step in the right direction. As GLSEN reports, “The survey has consistently indicated that a safer school climate directly relates to the availability of LGBT school-based resources and support, including Gay-Straight Alliances, inclusive curriculum, supportive school staff, and comprehensive anti-bullying policies.” This report should be required reading for anyone who works with teenagers. 

 

Follow the links to head on over to TLT for the full posts.

Book review: Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff

playlistTitle: Playlist for the Dead

Author: Michelle Falkoff

Genre: Contemporary

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 1/27/2015

Source of book: I received an advanced copy of this book via the publishers through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

 

Summary (from the publisher):

Here’s what Sam knows:
There was a party.
There was a fight.
The next morning, Sam’s best friend, Hayden, was dead.
All he left Sam was a playlist—
and a note, saying
that he took his own life.
but what Sam doesn’t know is:
Why?

To figure out what happened, Sam has to rely on the playlist and his own memory. But the more he listens, the more he realizes that his memory isn’t as reliable as he thought. Especially when someone claiming to be Hayden starts sending him cryptic messages, and a series of violent attacks begins on the bullies who made Hayden’s life hell.

Sam knows he has to face up to what happened the night Hayden killed himself. But it’s only by taking out his earbuds and opening his eyes to the people around him—including an eccentric, unpredictable girl who’s got secrets, too—that Sam will finally be able to piece together his best friend’s story.

And maybe have a chance to change his own.

 

Review:

Silly complaints first: I want this title to be Playlist FROM the Dead. Because that’s more accurate. And I either want the silhouettes taken off completely or for them both to be boys. Are they supposed to be Sam and Astrid (the “eccentric, unpredictable girl” from above)? Hayden and Athena? I don’t like either of those options. This is Sam and Hayden’s story (with parts shared by other people), so give me them or no one on that cover. (I told you it was silly.)

I’m torn on this one. Overall, I found the story engaging. It’s well-written, the characters stand out as memorable, and the grief and confusion that follow Hayden’s death read as very real and honest. But I kept wanting just a little more from everything in the book. I wanted more from the weird possibly supernatural, possibly grief-induced hallucinatory interactions with the mysterious ArchmageGed. I wanted the romance element of this story to feel less frustratingly forced. I wanted the story of what drove Hayden to kill himself to be less drawn out. Sam and Astrid kept bringing up bits and pieces of what really happened that night, how Astrid really knew Hayden, what she knew that Sam didn’t know, but then they back off in ways that felt unrealistic to me. What did feel realistic and done really well was how everyone felt in the aftermath of Hayden’s suicide. The guilt, regret, shame, confusion, pain… it all felt real. Sometimes I think the most damning review of something is “it was okay.” That’s kind of how I ended up feeling once this one was over. Maybe it’s because there are so many suicide books already out there. Maybe it’s because I wanted the playlist part, the music part, to be stronger and more obviously meaningful. Maybe it’s because I saw these loner characters who like comics and music and gaming and felt some affinity with them—I don’t know why, exactly, this one ended up feeling unsatisfying to me. Readers who automatically read suicide books (like I do) will certainly pick this up and likely stick with it, but might find the revelations and conclusions at the end to be too fast and tidy.

 

Links:

Author’s Twitter

Roundup of book-related links

*At Pub Hub, Kate Brauning “On Writing Ethical YA.” From her post:

“YA can be sweetheart HEAs. It can be destructive romance. It can be sweary or not. It can have detailed sex or no sex at all. Some choices may lose you some readers, but those choices will gain you other readers, too. YA is not a collection of limitations. As soon as we start saying what we can and can’t write in young adult fiction, we limit the kinds of stories that can be told. The YA author’s responsibility is to be authentic to teen life for the culture and character he or she chose. Nothing more or less.”

 

*Anne Ursu: “I See a Book and Get Angry and Write a Thing.”  From her post:

“Kids don’t need a book shaming them into dieting. They don’t need to learn that food and weight are a moral issue. They need positive images of kids of all weights in their books—from picture books on up—books that tell them that they exist and it’s okay and they can take up space. They don’t need a book like DON’T CALL ME FAT—maybe they just need people to tell them they’re okay the way they are.”

 

*I.W. Gregorio has a guest post at Stacked, “Let’s Move Beyond the Gender Binary.”  From her post:

“To read about others is to know them. To know them is to expand your world. Here’s to reading books that show a world beyond the gender binary. Here’s to showing our kids that girls can have masculine traits and that boys can be feminine, too.”

 

*From The Toast, “How To Tell If You Are in a Baby-sitters Club Book.”  From the hilarious and true post:

Your peer group has associate members.

You have something called a Kid Kit filled with toys that you present to children with regularity, but it isn’t creepy.

You hide candy in absurd places in your bedroom, but you do not have an ant problem.

Each of your adventures starts with a recap of who your friends are, what they look like, and their job in your organization.

 

*At Mother Reader, the always epic “150 Ways to Give a Book” post. Just a few of the ideas:

  1. Give Beauty Queens with a small makeup kit, and a healthy dose of irony.
  2. Rock out with Beige along with a mix CD of the songs in the chapter titles (or an iTunes gift card).
  3. Buy a tween Better Nate Than Ever along with tickets to a show.

 

*Malinda Lo is doing her awesome yearly job of looking at the breakdowns of the year’s LGBT YA books.  Posts with charts and graphs? Yes, please!

 

*At Pub Hub, Carrie Mesrobian: “10 Thoughts: Writing About Sex in YA Fiction & Otherwise, Part I.”  From her post:

There will be people who will certainly piss all over any sex scenes between adolescents that involve poor decision-making. They may call you names, such as “irresponsible” and “gratuitous” and “misogynous.” You have to be braver than those people and trust your readers more. They’re not reading your book as an instruction manual. Go with what you think fits your story best, not what a high school health instructor might advise.

 

*At The Magpie Librarian, “An Incomplete and Brief History of Protests, Riots, and Uprisings: A YA Display.”   THIS IS A PHENOMENAL POST.

This month at Teen Librarian Toolbox

I took a break from blogging here but had a few posts this month over at Teen Librarian Toolbox. 

The Sexual Violence in YA Literature Project: Help us shape upcoming posts on LGBTQIA+ books. From the post:

What do we need from you? We’d love input on titles we should consider and subtopics you’d like to see addressed. Right now,  our categories are about sexual violence in LGBTQIA+ books, depictions of consent, and portrayals of positive sexual experiences (including on-the-page sex scenes). Know of YA books that would address any of these topics? Have thoughts on what you’d love to see us write about? Know of other resources or any other places where these topics have been covered? Writers we should approach about guest posts? Share with us

 

Sunday Reflections: The Sanctuary of Stories. From the post:

I know I’m not the only one to have encountered plenty of people who just don’t understand why some people read so much—or, unfortunately, don’t understand why people read, period. “He always has his nose in a book,” they might complain. “She’s read Harry Potter ten times,” someone will sigh. “I don’t get why she has to always read sad books about horrible things happening,” someone will grumble. I’d like to tell those people that sometimes we read because it’s what’s keeping us going.Those stories that you dismiss so easily are what are saving us. Through stories we may find a light of hope, a much needed distraction, a laugh, a way to grieve, and so much more.

 

From the 12 Blogs of 2014 series: DiversifYA, Rich in Color, and YA Highway. 

 

What’s New in LGBTQIA+ This Winter: a roundup of new titles out in December and January.

 

Waiting on Wednesday: I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios

waitingonwednesday

 

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking The Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

 

This week my pick is I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios. I’m interested in this book because I really enjoyed Something Real by Demetrios—great characters, great dialogue. I’d likely be picking this new book up even if I didn’t know anything about the plot. But having read the summary, it’s the plot that totally has me interested. I always gravitate toward stories of unexpected events throwing your trajectory off course, and it sounds like Skylar’s plans are unraveling. Also, the Josh storyline is very appealing, because we so very infrequently see teens and young adults in the military in YA books. You’re intrigued, right?

 

Summary from bn.com: i'llmeetyou

If seventeen-year-old Skylar Evans were a typical Creek View girl, her future would involve a double-wide trailer, a baby on her hip, and the graveyard shift at Taco Bell. But after graduation, the only thing standing between straightedge Skylar and art school are three minimum-wage months of summer. Skylar can taste the freedom—that is, until her mother loses her job and everything starts coming apart. Torn between her dreams and the people she loves, Skylar realizes everything she’s ever worked for is on the line.

Nineteen-year-old Josh Mitchell had a different ticket out of Creek View: the Marines. But after his leg is blown off in Afghanistan, he returns home, a shell of the cocksure boy he used to be.

What brings Skylar and Josh together is working at the Paradise—a quirky motel off California’s dusty Highway 99. Despite their differences, their shared isolation turns into an unexpected friendship and soon, something deeper.

 

Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)

Publication date: February 3, 2015

ISBN-13: 9780805097955