Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2002 Best Books forYoung Adults, 2002 Top Ten Books for Young Adults, 2009 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, Teen’s Top Ten: 2003 & 2005) by Ann Brashares: Lena. Brashares does a suburb job of fully developing all four of the girls who wear the magic pants. No girl is an afterthought, no girl is a clone, and no girl is without her issues. Lena’s deal is that she is repressed. All of her friends describe Lena as beautiful but withdrawn. Lena’s reluctance to go anywhere new is first challenged when she is forced to spend the summer in Greece with her grandparents. One repressed protagonist plus a cute Greek guy plus a pair of magic jeans equals… lots of personal growth for Lena!
As library workers, especially those of us who work with teens, our role can shift to “social worker” in an instant. Our teen patrons visit the library everyday and they begin to trust and confide in us. Because most of us don’t have the training to work with at-risk youth, we can feel a little helpless but we don’t have to because we have the power of a good book.
About a year ago, a member of my book discussion group seemed to be questioning his sexuality and he never talked about it. I gave him Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith to read because I thought the ending was perfect for his situation. He loved the book and now he’s very open with his sexuality and he accepts who he is. Did my recommendation help him? I don’t really know but I like to think it gave him some perspective. When I see a teen who I think or know is struggling with a personal problem, I’ll strike up a book conversation on their next library visit asking them what they like to read. If they are a reader, I’ll find a book from their favorite genre that deals with the subject they are struggling with.
In my library, I see homeless teens, teens with alcoholic parents, teens living with a dying parent, and teens dealing with gender identity and body image. I used to feel powerless but after I recommended Grasshopper Jungle, I realized that I could be an effective adult in the lives of teens. Below are a list of good books that blend popular genres with social issues. Gone are the days of feeling helpless. Say goodbye to sifting through numerous Google results. You now possess the power of reader’s advisory in a flash. You are the newest member of the Social Justice League!
Teens across the nation vote each year for the Teens’ Top Ten book list and the results are eagerly anticipated during Teen Read Week every October– but did you know how the books are nominated for this list in the first place?
Books are nominated by members of Teens’ Top Ten book groupsin school and public libraries around the country. To give you a glimpse of some of the teens behind this process, we’re featuring posts from Teens’ Top Ten book groups here on The Hub. Today we have a playlist created by Sarah Liang from the Mount Carmel Academy Book Club, to go along with your reading of All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven.
Reading has always been a way to escape reality for me, whether it’s through a cute romance novel or a suspense thriller. I don’t think I’ve ever spent a day away from a book! Sometimes it just helps to be able to curl up with a good novel on a nice day and let your imagination run free. Along with books, I have always had a deep connection with music. I’ve found that my love for music and books overlaps constantly. I am always thinking of songs that go along with a scene in my current read, and certain novels often come to mind when I’m listening to a good tune.
Forget the Tarot cards, crystal balls, and palm-readers. Toss aside those stale fortune cookies. You need only look to your bookshelf to understand your deepest personality traits. Look for some of your favorite YA titles below and you may find that my keen “psychic” abilities can be enlightening.
* Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver. There is more to you than meets the eye. You keep your secrets close, and may not be very trustworthy. But you love deeply and are very protective.
* Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson. You might have a hard time trusting yourself, but go with your instincts- they won’t steer you wrong. Be yourself and don’t try so hard to please others.
* The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough. You may feel like you are being influenced by forces greater than your own. But it’s OK, go with it. Don’t be afraid to get hurt and great things will happen.
* Sea of Shadows by Kelley Armstrong. Others may call you inconsistent. Your horoscope sign may be best described as “Gemini.” You are brave, smart, and have a keen sense of justice. You develop strong connections to friends and family.
* The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (2009 Best Book for Young Adults). Some would call you are a guys’ guy. But don’t discount the fairer sex, you may find a wonderful friend. You may not be “book smart” but you are clever and can get yourself out of tough situations. Just believe in yourself, and don’t forget to appreciate your dog.
* All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. You are drawn to those in pain and have some dark times. Talking through it may help. We all have to go through difficult times. Let yourself mourn those you have lost. Continue reading YA Book Personality Test
May is recognized as Mental Health Awareness Month. In recognition of mental health awareness, I have chosen to highlight some young adult novels published this year that focus on characters dealing with difficult and sensitive topics.
From relationship struggles to depression and suicide, characters in these stories challenged byinternal and external conflicts, similar to real life experiences you may be familiar with. You may have felt sympathy for Cadence and her struggling memory in We Were Liars, begged Leonard to put down the gun in Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, connected with Charlie in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, agonized with Melinda to Speak, set out Looking for Alaska, or unraveled the mystery of the 13 Reasons WhyHannah committed suicide. Teens may experience tough and complex issues, and it shows in the contemporary stories we read.
Recent Titles about Mental Illness
What’s next on your reading list? 2015 brings an array of new titles related to mental illness – stories to place on your summer booklist (while remembering to pack a box of tissues).
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Violet Markey and Theodore Finch have one thing in common: they both want to leave. Violet wants to leave her Indiana town after graduation withthe memory of her buried sister. Finch wants to leave this world, imagining the ways he might kill himself. After meeting on the ledge of a bell tower at school, they resolve to discover more about their world. Embracing life instead of death, Finch learns he is more than the freak he’s known as. They both learn to start living instead of dying. Elle Fanning stars in the upcoming motion picture.
Elena Vanishing by Elena Dunkle, Clare B. Dunkle
Every day, seventeen-year-old Elena is vanishing, as heranxiety and anorexia slowly steal away pieces of herself. Author Elena Dunklebravely shares her story of struggling with a frightening and devastating disease as a teenager in this memoir co-written with her mother, Clare B. Dunkle. In this honest and intense telling, Elena describes what it’s like to live with anorexia and provides insight to a reality true for many.
The Pause by John Larkin
Even as he seemingly has everything – loving family, friends, girlfriend – Declan makes a decision to end his life. Something in his past won’t go away and claws at his consciousness with brutal, buried scrapes, agonizing him for so long. In one moment, one pause before he jumps into an approaching train, Declan sees two versions of his life. One version where his body is destroyed and his loved ones are left behind, and another. One new life.
Sometimes Finch just blanks out. He cannot remember the preceding hours, days…or sometimes months. After this last blank-out, he “wakes” to find himself standing on the outer ledge of his school’s bell tower. Had he intended to jump? It’s a very rude awakening. Until something bright and miraculous happens.
Finch is not alone. There is a girl on the other side of the bell tower. Seeing her, Finch lapses into stand-up comic mode to distract the girl as he edges near her. The girl – Violet – is terrified. Finch convinces her to climb back to safety and pretend to then save Finch. After all, Finch is a weirdo, a screw-up, the sort of guy who would hurl himself from the bell tower.
OneRepublic is a successful pop-rock group that has produced three well-received studio albums and played with numerous top level performers. The title of their second studio album was appropriately named Waking Up; the first single, “All the Right Moves,” was released in 2009. In addition to the haunting echo of the title, All the Bright Places, the lyrics to this song could be part of a Finch monologue:
Do you think I’m special, do you think I’m nice
Am I bright enough to shine in your spaces
Between the noise you hear and the sound you like
Are we just sinking in the ocean of faces
The music video does not quite reflect the poignancy of these lyrics, but the dancing is quite lovely.
Diane Colson, currently reading an advance readers copy of The Cost of All Things by Maggie Lehrman.
As someone whose family has been affected by both depression and suicide, I am always interested in how authors, especially those writing for teens, choose to represent aspects of a character’s mental health.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, approximately 2 million U.S. adolescents attempt suicide each year in the United States, which (and not to sound childish) makes me extremely sad and want a way to be able to reach out to those readers who might not feel comfortable talking about it, but who desire a way to process their own feelings on the subject.
Recently, I had been reading a lot of YA fiction galleys, and I noticed a trend – books about suicide and depression have definitely increased, and I think that is very good thing for not only teens, but also those who work with teens or have special teens in their lives. Society hasn’t always been kind to the topic of mental illness (still isn’t in a lot of ways, actually) – but, being about to talk about it openly without fear of reprisal is something that has gotten better over the past few years. And, with the influx of new teen literature looking at suicide and depression in responsible, caring ways there comes a new way to reach out to those who are maybe struggling with it or dealing with it in their family or group of friends. I was happy to see School Library Journal’s excellent new bibliotherapy booklist for teens – it offers suggestions for those struggling with depression and suicide, but other tough topics, as well; be sure to check it out, if you haven’t already. In today’s post, I thought I’d highlight my five favorite new books that deal with suicide – I think all of them treat it with respect and a thoughtful nature.
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven: This book is actually my favorite out of the bunch; I really think this is one of the most realistic portrayals of depression and suicide that I have read in a really long time. Violet and Finch meet at the top of the bell tower at their school; they are both entertaining the thought of jumping to their deaths. Finch has been dealing with depression and bipolar disorder for quite a while, but Violet has only started entertaining the thought of suicide since her older sister/best friend recently died in a car accident. After some hesitation on Violet’s part, Finch manages to get Violet to start hanging out with him, and their relationship progresses from there. However, like life, sometimes finding a special someone doesn’t mean that your depression goes away; love doesn’t cure a mental illness, which, I think, is an unfortunate message that a lot of teen books about suicide offer up as a happy ending. Sometimes people still commit suicide even though they have someone who is trying desperately to understand and help them, and I applaud this book for showing a real-life ending – one that isn’t necessarily neat or pretty. But, this is a hopeful book full of love and future plans, and one that readers will be talking about. Continue reading Dealing with Suicide & Depression in Teen Literature