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!
I was lucky enough to attend the ALA Annual Conference in San Francisco last week and attended the YALSA YA Author Coffee Klatch sponsored by BLINK on Sunday, June 28th from 9 – 10 am. Allison Tran was there too and included some great photos in her post from the event.
I had the opportunity to have coffee while I met many of YALSA’s award winning authors, many of whom have appeared on one of YALSA’s six annual selected lists or have received one of YALSA’s five literary awards. In this speed-dating-like event, we sat at the tables and every five minutes or so the authors would come to our table to talk with us.
Participating authors included: M. T. Anderson, Leigh Bardugo, Deborah Biancotti, Virginia Boecker, Erin Bow, Martha Brockenbrough, Rae Carson, Selene Castrovilla, Carey Corp, Zak Ebrahim, Jack Gantos, Gail Giles, Amalie Howard, Jenny Hubbard, Bill Konigsberg, Michael Koryta, Daniel Kraus, Stephanie Kuehn, Susan Kuklin, Margo Lanagan, Lorie Langdon, Eric Lindstrom, Sophie Maletsky, Marissa Meyer, Jandy Nelson, Patrick Ness, Mitali Perkins, Kate Racculia, Luke Reynolds, William Ritter, Ginny Rorby, John Scalzi, Neal Shusterman, Andrew Smith, Allan Stratton, Nova Ren Suma, Jillian Tamaki, Mariko Tamaki, Scott Westerfeld, Carol Lynch Williams, and Suzanne Young.
These were the YA Authors who came to my table and a little of what they said (any inaccuracies are solely my fault):
Mitali Perkins talked about her latest middle grade book called Tiger Boy.
She said that publishers didn’t think young people wanted to read about teen characters from other countries but that hasn’t been the case. Perkins wants young people to read across borders. She said she’s gotten letters from kids from all over the US – like rural Kansas. They connect with her books and there’s a power that readers have over the story. She said that one of her previous books, Bamboo People (2011 YALSA Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults), is on twelve state reading lists. It has two boys as the main characters and lots of action and it’s still a popular read, even though it came out in 2010 and is set in Burma. The fact that it’s a coming of age story is universal. Perkins has drawn inspiration for her writing because she said she’s traveled a lot and lived in Thailand, Boston and in the Bay Area. Tiger Boy is a tribute to her dad. He became a talented civil engineer and traveled all over the world. She said she “writes to the boy who doesn’t think he is a reader.”
It’s a psychological mystery, set in Sonoma, CA and it has a lot of darkness to it. It features a female anti-hero. The girl was sent down from boarding school for almost killing another girl. She is cruel. She becomes reacquainted with a boy named Emerson she knew as a kid & they both have a connection with Emerson’s younger brother who sees visions of people dying. It’s told from a third person point-of-view because it’s easier to tell that way as it shifts from the different perspectives of the characters. Kuehn says her main character is a psychopath but there’s a humanity to her too. “We share common experiences – they’re human monsters.”
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.
I’ve had the opportunity to attend a few publisher previews recently and have noticed a few recent trends in YA publishing. Since I haven’t been able to attend all the previews it’s not a completely comprehensive list so I welcome any suggestions for those I’ve missed.
Kissing in America by Margo Rabb (5/2015). Teenaged girl still grieving over her father’s death a few years before contrives with her best friend to enter and win a teen game show to win a trip to CA to follow her crush.
The Porcupine of Truth by Bill Konigsberg (5/2015). Two teens embark on a road trip to uncover the root cause of three generations of family estrangement and solve their difficult family issues.
Drive Me Crazy by Terra Elan McVoy (4/2015). Two girls who don’t really like each other, now related due to their grandparents’ wedding, try to get along as they accompany their grandparents on their California road trip honeymoon.
Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman (4/2015). Caden, 14, is gradually descending into schizophrenia and lives in two worlds – the real one and the one in his delusions.
One Thing Stolen by Beth Kephart (4/2015). Girl who steals things then weaves them into elaborate nests is also losing the ability to speak due to a mental disorder.
Made You Up by Francesca Zappia (5/2015). Girl with paranoid schizophrenia
The Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell (5/2015). Seventeen-year-old Japanese boy dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease) wants to die on his own terms.
Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider(5/2015). Two teens with terminal TB
Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway (6/2015). Teenaged Emmy’s friend and neighbor Oliver disappeared when they were in 3rd grade and she’s been overprotected by her parents ever since. Oliver returns years later after he finds out he was kidnapped by his father and must try to adjust to life with Emmy and his community again.
Shackled by Tom Leveen (8/2015). Teenager suffering from severe panic attacks ever since her best friend disappeared six-years ago determines to find her after thinks she sees her again.
Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller (3/2015). Seventeen-year-old Peggy recounts how when she was 8, her mentally ill survivalist father kidnapped her from London and took her to an isolated forest where they survived off the grid after he told her the world had been destroyed.
There are certain fandoms I’ve been apprehensive to take on due to their immense fanbases. I definitely breathed a sigh of relief when I completed the blog posts for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly and realized that they turned out to be successful. I’m still debating when I’m going to dive in and take on Doctor Who. It’s probably my most frightening concept to date, but I promise it will happen. I just need a little more psyching up and then I will do it. Today, however, I will attempt to impart my recommendations for one of my favorite shows of all time: Supernatural.
The basic plot of Supernatural is a something that has been recently retold in a variety of YA books. It’s a basic story about two guys (in this case, brothers Dean and Sam Winchester) who travel around and take on a plethora of supernatural and paranormal creatures while dealing with their own personal demons which range from recovering from a trip to purgatory to actually being the human embodiment of Lucifer.
There are three books in particular that resonate as perfect readalikes for the series. First, Sarah Rees Brennan has a series that begins with The Demon’s Lexicon(Best Fiction for Young Adults Top Ten, 2010). In this book, two brothers, Alan and Nick, hunt demons avenging their dead father and taking care of their crazy mother. There are definitely similarities between Alan and Nick and Dean and Sam are very evident. Perhaps the Winchesters can take a break and read a bit about another duo who fight the evils lurking in the dark.
A second selection to seek out is Anna Dressed in Blood and its companion, Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake. The main character is a boy named Cas, who coincidentally shares his name with the Winchester’s angelic friend. Cas travels around with his witch mother and a cat that can sense ghosts. Dean and Sam will find comradery with Cas as he sets off to avenge his father’s death while wielding an athame with the the power to destroy ghosts. Like Sam Dean, Cas is challenged to overlook his predispositions to kill ghosts and determine whether or not this particular case involving the spirit called Anna Dressed in Blood is not quite like the others.
Finally, I would definitely hand over Kami Garcia’s new series called “The Legion.” Garcia’s series begins with Unbreakable. The story begins with a female protagonist named Kennedy who finds her mother murdered by something supernatural. She only survives due to twin brothers named Lukas and Jared who whisk her away from danger only to inform her that there will definitely be more danger down the road. In turns out that Kennedy, the twins, and two others are the descendants of members of a group called The Legion that fight against ancient evil spirits. Secret societies full of knowledge regarding the killing of all things evil? Sounds a bit like the Winchester’s new discovery, the Men of Letters, only with a lot less resources. Now that I covered a few titles that Sam and Dean can share and read together, here are a few titles specifically chosen for each of their personal tastes. Continue reading What Would They Read?: Supernatural
I know some of you are patiently waiting for the conclusion of my Firefly post in September. Unfortunately you will have to wait a little bit more as I am interrupting my own series of posts to bring you this Halloween Monster Edition of “What Would They Read.” I promise I will finish Firefly next month. As I see it, we Firefly fans are used to things we love and look forward to being abruptly ended. It’s sad, but true.
OK, back to monsters…
There were two ways I considered approaching this blog post. I could go the easy way and match various monsters with books that include characters from the same species. For example, Dracula would just love to read The Twilight Saga because of all the vampires. Sure, I’ll throw in a few of those. The real challenge lies in finding books for these monster archetypes that more reflect their personality types. It’s a bit more difficult, but I’m up for the challenge. Go big or go home, right?
Dracula – Before vampires became a standard villainous character is several movies, shows, and books, Bram Stoker brought us the original vampire story. Some may say that there’s a historical connection to the evil ruler, Vlad the Impaler. I’m not going to debate for or against that idea, but I will say that guy was fairly creepy.
Those who have read the original novel, Dracula, know that while the vampire was super spooky, he was also very lonely. He used his vampire ways to try to get friends and girlfriend. True, he didn’t go about this search in the conventional way by simply introducing himself to new people. Instead, he charmed the mentally unstable Renfield and made him his somewhat friend, although I think the term is closer to minion than friend. Once he decided he wanted a woman in his life, he did not go about courting her in a traditional manner. After a few midnight visits full of blood drinking, Dracula had Lucy right where he wanted her; in a coffin. Continue reading What Would They Read?: Monster Edition!