Blog Revival Part Whatever

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s me reviving this blog for the third? Fourth time? Yes, it’s been awhile. It seems like the last time I stopped here I set out on a quest to read 52 youth books in as many weeks, and then disappeared. Did my quest consume me? Well, a little bit, among other things.

Since I last posted here, waaaay back in June 2021, I’ve done a lot. I’ve had some good times and bad times, and some days that are a weird mix of both. I finally graduated with my Master’s in Library and Information Science in August 2021! I landed a job as a children’s librarian in at a public library in February 2022. It’s a great job and there are still times when I can’t believe I get paid to do this. I’m learning so much and having an absolute blast. Why did I ever want to be anything other than a children’s librarian?

Another kind of incredible thing that happened to me: my short story, “Someday Promise” was published by The First Line Literary Journal. This is my first time getting published, and I’ve got more short stories and a novel in the works. It won’t be easy, but I hope someday those stories will see the light of day this next year, too.

And so, it has come time (again), to bring this poor, neglected blog back to life once more. And, like the previous revivals, things are going to look a little different around here.

First, I did finish reading those 52 children’s books, though it took quite a bit longer than 52 weeks. I also have several posts that I wrote but haven’t edited or published yet, mostly “Books I Didn’t Pick.” Those will finally see the light of day in 2023.

There’s also going to be new stuff! Each month, I’ll be posting a list of book recommendations based around a theme. January’s is – what else? – New Year, New Me.

All of these will be mixed in with observations (I hesitate to call them “essays”) on various subjects that interest me as a reader, writer, or and/or librarian. The blog officially restarts for, like the 4th time, on January 6. I’m looking forward to reading back and sharing some great books with you.

Trans Discrimination in School Sports

This blog has long since talked about social issues, typically as they relate to books. While it is unlike me to use this blog for such blatant soapboxing as this, I’ve recently had an uptick in my traffic here. I want to use this as an opportunity to talk about something important to me: the wave of anti-trans legislation, coming to a school near you.

On June 1st, the first day of Pride Month, Florida Governor Ran DeSantis signed the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act”, which bars any trans girls from playing on public schools girl teams. This is only the latest is a series of similar laws have been signed in Idaho, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee, with many other states proposing similar legislation.
I just want to mention that in Florida there have only been 11 trans students who applied for screening to participate in sports since 2013.

Eleven. Out of the whole state. This isn’t urgent legislation; trans athletes are not threatening anyone or taking away their chances. This is just hateful politicians trying to appease their base by creating discriminatory laws by targeting an already vulnerable group.

The Trevor Project
National Center for Transgender Equality
Human Rights Campaign

I know that not everyone sees these laws as inherently discriminatory, and I understand why. Sports and gender is not a new issue. Just ask Dutee Chand. Lawmakers use misinformation and fear, not scientific knowledge, to justify barring trans girls from school sports. In essence, they believe that trans girls will have an advantage over cisgender girls in competition, with the implication that trans females are not female.

Except that’s not true. This interview sums it up fairly well*. Let me give you a quick recap:

[Estrogen use by trans women] will reduce their muscle mass and red blood cells, which carry the oxygen necessary for better performance. And that will also reduce the speed, the strength and the endurance. [. . .] [A]t a high school level, many trans youth do delay their puberty, which means that even if they are not taking these gender-affirming hormones, their natural puberty in their biological sex is not happening, therefore resulting in a delay and an absence of an effect on muscle mass, at least for the male-to-female situation. So the supposed advantage of muscle mass and red blood cells because of testosterone becomes moot in middle and often high school competitions when there have been puberty blockers involved.

Dr. Eric Vilain, M.D., PhD

Luckily, the NCAA and International Olympics Committee are a little more up on the science than certain politicians. Both have put forth policies (linked here) regarding inclusion of trans athletes in college sports and the Olympics, respectively. In short, provided the athletes can meet the requirements in these guidelines, there is no reason they should be barred from competition.

Contact your representatives and tell them you support inclusive school sports for trans athletes. If you are able, please consider donating to one of the above organizations to help support trans students, and fight against harmful and unjust laws.




*For more science, in greater detail:

Sport and Transgender People: A Systematic Review of the Literature Relating to Sport Participation and Competitive Sport Policies
Trans Girls Belong on Sports Teams
Laws banning trans athletes from competing in girls’ and women’s sports not grounded in science, say experts
Radiolab Presents: Gonads

Stop talking about testosterone, there’s no such thing as ‘true sex’
Laws banning trans athletes from competing in girls’ and women’s sports not ground in science, experts say

Don’t fuck with me man, I’m a librarian.

Pandemic Fatigue and Mental Health

I haven’t been keeping up with the posting schedule that I set for myself. In fact, I haven’t been doing much of anything for the past few weeks. I’ve been pretty down, and quite lethargic. I had thought that I’d adapted well to living through a pandemic – I even got married during it – but as time goes on, COVID has worn on me more and more. I want to go to a restaurant and watch a movie in theaters. I want to sip hot chocolate at my favorite café and have friends visit. But I can’t do any of those things.

I, like a lot of people, have been experiencing pandemic fatigue. Some days I fight against depression, or my already high levels of anxiety are peaked. As the pandemic continues with no clear end in sight, I can feel my life and my emotional health erode around me. I feel so isolated and frustrated.

I know I’m not alone in this. Instead of my usual book-related post, I wanted to use this as an opportunity to help share some mental health tips and resources with you here.

Before I do, I want to say that I have a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, but I am not a licensed therapist, doctor, or medical professional of any kind. I have done my best to vet the information and resources here, but I cannot provide actual medical advice. There will also be links throughout this post, but none of them are sponsored. Lastly, most of my resources will be based in the United States, as that’s where I live and have the most information about.

I’ll be putting many links from the section about finding therapy in the resources page. That way you won’t need to scroll through a long post if there’s something you’d like to check out later on.

Now, let’s try to work some of the pandemic blues away. I’ll talk about therapy a little later on, but here are some methods you can try on your own.

Acknowledge what you’re feeling, and feel it. When I last talked to my therapist (more on that later), we talked about pandemic fatigue, and how it was affecting me. She spoke about the pandemic fatigue that she’s seen in other people, and told me that everyone’s experience was unique to them. There’s no singular way people are reacting to the pandemic, and everyone’s mental health needs will be different. My advice is: give yourself a break. You can’t command yourself to stop being sad, or anxious, or however you’re feeling. But don’t beat yourself up, or feel guilty. We are living through hard times, which none of us would have ever imagined two years ago. Give yourself a little time to just feel whatever it is you need to – anger, sorrow, fear – and keep going forward.

Exercise. Get up off the couch! Study after study has proven benefits of exercise for both physical and mental health. It’s shown to be effective in mitigating symptoms of depression and anxiety, and lowering stress levels. In the immortal words of Elle Woods: “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands.” For a more professional take, here are a few articles with more detailed information:

Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms – Mayo Clinic
The exercise effect – American Psychological Association
The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise – HelpGuide

Journal. I’m not saying this only because I’m a writer, but because there are many proven mental health benefits to writing, and journaling in particular. Maybe you have days where it feels like the world is spinning around you, and you can’t quite get a grip on anything. Or maybe you’re anxious or sad or angry, but you’re not really sure why. When you journal, you turn the chaos around you into a narrative, helping to make sense of seemingly random events. As you write, you may also find you have better clarity over what’s causing you to be stressed out or upset. Or maybe you just need to vent somewhere; a journal is the perfect place to do that.

If starting a journal sounds intimidating, remember you don’t need to share what you write in there with anyone else. Don’t worry if it’s not pretty or well-written. Write whatever comes to mind, say whatever it is you need to say. You’re writing for yourself, not anyone else. There are also many guided journals available, which provide you with prompts to reflect on and write about.

Journaling for Mental Health – University of Rochester
Take Note – Northwestern Medicine
Reasons Why You Should Start Journaling – BBC
Writing Tips that Can Reduce Symptoms – NAMI

Get yourself some therapy.

This is it. This is the big one. Therapy and mental health are still, unfortunately, stigmatized by many people. Mental health isn’t always easy or comfortable to talk about, and it can be hard to find help because of that. It can also be hard to admit that you might need therapy. Speaking from my own personal experience, sometimes going into therapy felt like I had failed myself. I worked so hard to keep my mental health issues under control and under wraps, and was frustrated and dejected because that control was slipping. In most of those cases, though, external factors were threatening to overwhelm me, and strained my mental well-being. Realizing this, therapy became a mental “tune-up” for me, in the same way your car might need a tune up from time to time.

Here’s how I try to look at it now: if you get injured – maybe you’ve torn a muscle or broken a leg – you would go see a doctor. Your doctor has the expertise that you lack to help patch you up and help you recover. If you think of your mind as a muscle, it only makes sense that you would see another professional to help you heal from whatever illness or injuries might be ailing you.

If you think it’s time to try therapy, it can be hard to know where to start looking for a therapist. One of the most common ways that people find therapists is through word-of-mouth and recommendations from friends or family. If you’re willing, don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations.

If you’re a student, most high schools and universities have counselors and counseling centers, where you can go to seek help for mental health. Check your school’s website or student handbook for more information.

If you’re employed in the U.S., many companies have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) which provides free short-term counseling to employees (and typically their families as well). The details of using an EAP will vary between companies, but in general, they provide 2-3 counseling sessions. If that’s all you need, great! If not, many will provide referrals for continuing therapy.

With few exceptions (I’ll talk more about confidentiality in a bit), whatever you say in your counseling sessions is private. In most cases, your boss doesn’t ever need to know that you’re using an EAP. Your counselor cannot disclose any information to anyone else without written consent from you, unless they are court ordered to do so, or to protect yourself or another person from harm.

EAPs do work a bit differently in terms of confidentiality when the employee is mandated to attend counseling by an employer. The employer may receive information about the employee’s attendance, compliance, recommendations from the counselor, and notice of completing treatment. In this case, the employee still must give written permission to share this information, but the employer will be receiving feedback.

Your insurance provider can be another way to find a therapist. Look to see if there are any therapists “in-network” that you can get an appointment with.

I also want to acknowledge that there’s an extra layer of challenge in finding a therapist if you’re a person of color and/or if you’re a LGBTQAI+ individual. This article from Healthline lists several resources for BIPOC and LGBTQAI+ people to find therapists, as support networks, and organizations for financial assistance for therapy.

How To Find And Fund Therapy as a BIPOC – Healthline

This takes us into another common reason why people don’t seek therapy: the cost.

Therapy can get expensive, and even if your insurance does cover it, they might not cover all the costs entirely. There are other options, though, that can make therapy more affordable.

First, there’s the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline: (1-800-950-NAMI). The Helpline is not therapy, but can provide support, coping strategies, and referrals and resources for mental health needs.

You can also look for mental health services provided by your local government. Check your county’s website, or your county’s health department’s website. You can usually find a link to the county’s mental health center, which should offer some form of counseling or therapy.

If you live near a university, you can also see if the university offers a clinic you could take advantage of. Universities which offer advanced degrees in clinical psychology typically run mental health clinics for the public. Student psychologists, under the supervision their instructors, work in these clinics to gain experience working as therapists. These services are typically provided for low or no cost.

Online therapy may also be an option. The prices range between services, they are often cheaper than traditional in-person therapy (even though that’s being done remotely now, too).

I also found a few articles that list a few other options I haven’t mentioned here.

Mental Health Services: How to Get Treatment if You Can’t Afford It – NBC
Therapy for Every Budget: How to Access It – Healthline
Low Cost Treatment – Anxiety & Depression Association of America
Strategies to Afford Mental Health Treatment – NAMI

If you’re just starting therapy, or are thinking about therapy and are a little apprehensive about it all, there’s just a few I want you to know, to hopefully make your journey smoother.

Confidentiality is key when it comes to therapy. There are only a few special circumstances when a therapist will break confidentiality.

These special circumstances are:

  • The client is an imminent danger to themselves and/or others
  • The therapist suspects abuse
  • The therapist has received a subpoena to share information on the client
  • The client gives the therapist permission to share information.

Everything else stays between you and your therapist. You can say whatever you need to.

When you start therapy, you might have to do something called an “intake interview”. Your therapist will ask about your background, why you’re starting therapy, and probably more questions based on your reason for being there. These questions aren’t meant to make you feel judged, but to help tailor therapy to your needs.

To be totally honest: the intake interview is uncomfortable. It can feel awkward and be really hard to get through. But I’ll let you in on a little secret: most therapists hate conducting them, too. They find it just as awkward as you do.

There’s another thing you need to know about therapy: it takes time. Therapy is not a magic pill that you can swallow and make things better after you finish a session. It’s work, and you may not feel the positive effects right away. In fact, it’s not uncommon to feel more down immediately following a therapy session than when you started. In therapy, there’s usually a lot of raw emotion that you have to deal with, and your therapist is there to guide you and help you process it in a healthy way. It can get pretty intense and be hard. But if you keep working on your mental health, you will have better coping skills and thinking patterns, and you will feel better.

Okay, so what if you’ve found your therapist, you’ve sat through the intake, but you and your therapist just aren’t meshing? Rapport does take time to build, but maybe your personalities are just too different, or maybe you need help in an area that your therapist doesn’t have much experience in. In this case, you may be referred to another therapist. Being referred to another therapist doesn’t mean that you were a bad client. It just means that there is someone else who would be better able to help you. At my college’s health center, I did one session with a male counselor. After that session, we both agreed that I would make more progress if I talked to one of the female counselors instead. I didn’t dislike the male counselor, but we both understood that it would be better for me to talk to another woman. Referrals are okay, and you don’t need to be worried if you’re referred to someone else.

We’ve all been very concerned with physical health for the past year, but please, don’t neglect your mental health. I hope you found something useful in this post. Remember that you are valued and loved. Take care of and be kind to yourself. You deserve it.

#1000BlackGirlBooks: One Crazy Summer

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia tells the story of Delphine Gaither and her sisters, Vonetta and Fern. In the summer of 1968, they fly from New York City to Oakland to meet their mother, Cecile. Cecile left the family when Fern was a baby, and the sisters have next to no memories of their mother. She resents the intrusion into her life, and sends them to a summer camp run by the Black Panthers.

I was interested in this book, because for a long time, the only thing I knew about the Black Panthers came from a two-minute scene in Forrest Gump. Most media depicts the Black Panthers in a one-sided way, as a ruthless, militant group. It wasn’t until last year that I even learned about the survival programs the Black Panthers ran. These included the Free Breakfast for Children, community medical clinics, voter registration, and sickle-cell anemia testing. There’s no denying that the Black Panthers were a militant group, and they remain controversial today. But that’s not all they were.

Doing some research on the author herself, I learned that Williams-Garcia’s relatives were members of the Black Panther party. She grew up during the Civil Rights era, and refers to her diaries as her primary sources.

I don’t necessarily dislike historical fiction, but I am very picky about it. I’ve given up reading far more historical novels than I actually finish. So when I say that I couldn’t put this book down, you know that I was hooked. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that characters tend to be what draws me into a story.

All the Gathier women are vibrant and memorable in their own ways. Eleven-year-old Delphine is the eldest, but often must act older than her years. She takes it upon herself to be her younger sisters’ guardian, helping to raise them after Cecile abandoned her family. The middle child, Vonetta, is showy and loves to be at the center of attention. Fern, the youngest, is clear-eyed and an emerging poet.

Cecile is hardly a warm matriarch, and doesn’t want the girls in her life. She’s associated with the Black Panthers and allows them to use her beloved printing press, but she doesn’t share their zeal. Her main concern is her poetry, and she doesn’t act anything like the mother the Gaither sisters imagined for most of the novel.

Another crucial piece of historical fiction is the setting. The time period and location are critical parts of the narrative. In a good historical fiction, the setting is woven together with the story to the point where you can’t separate them.

One Crazy Summer couldn’t be set anywhere but Oakland, CA in the summer of 1968. Along with the other social upheaval and counterculture movements at the time, the murder of Bobby Hutton had occurred only months prior to the beginning of the novel.

When the story begins, Delphine only knows a little about the Black Panthers, and her grandmother, “Big Ma”, only refers to its founders as troublemakers. When they first go to the center for breakfast and the day camp program, they are largely indifferent to the Panthers’ cause. As Vonetta says:

We didn’t come for revolution, we came for breakfast.

As the story progresses, Delphine starts reading the Black Panther’s newspaper, and becomes sympathetic to their cause. She takes pride in her work passing out fliers to encourage people to come to a rally, refusing to shop again at the grocery store that would not allow her to post one. By the end of the novel, she knows taht being associated with the Black Panthers is dangerous, but also understand the value of the party. She comes to better understand the racism and prejudice she and her loved ones face every day, and wants to fight back against it.

There’s a lot more I could talk about this book. I especially loved the importance that was placed on names and identity. However, I don’t want to spoil the events and significant moments in the book for you. I want you to go and read it. You won’t regret it.

One Crazy Summer was a fantastic book from start to finish, and I’ve added its two sequels onto my ever-growing to be read list. The characters and setting are vibrant and authentic, and the novel portrays another side of the Black Panthers that is rarely seen in media.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

This post contains many, many spoilers for A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins.

Just as I thought my days of watching teenagers kill each other for sport were over, I got dragged back in.

I’m not going to lie: I was definitely intrigued when I heard a new Hunger Games book was coming out. I couldn’t read the original trilogy fast enough. Like a lot of people, something about the Hunger Games series hooked me. Even now, I occasionally go back to those books, years after the books were read and the movies had wrapped, every so often, I still go back to the books.

I really like the original series, and I knew that I had to read The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.

I didn’t like it.

I don’t think that it was an objectively bad book, and if you read it and loved it–great! Just because I don’t like a book doesn’t mean that it’s awful. A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes was the perfect book for someone…just not me.

This was something I never thought I’d say about a book, but here it is: I think Snow was the wrong choice for the protagonist.

This is one of the hard things about writing prequels. It’s not easy to build tension when we already know how Snow’s story ends. Whatever happens to Snow in this book, whatever dangerous situation he’s put in, he’s going to survive. He’s not just going to live to the end, he’s going to reign over Panem for decades.

Snow’s also hard to sympathize with. In many prequels starring the main series’s villain, we usually get a character who wants to be good and do the right thing. Typically, dire circumstances cause the protagonist to make hard choices, and lead to their inevitable moral downfall. We usually like this prequel protagonist, and feel sad knowing how things are going to end badly for them.

Unfortunately, I didn’t like Snow, even from the very start of the book. From the outset, he’s obsessed with status and regaining his family’s lost wealth, and cares for no one but himself. When he shows kindness to others – most notably his ostracized classmate Serjanus – he only does so because it will benefit him in some way. Snow was a sociopath from the start, and I didn’t find anything likable about him. Even his family’s poverty didn’t make me feel more sympathetic for him. Every time he complained about how he hated eating lima beans or cabbage, I wanted to shout at him that Katniss and her family almost starved to death in District 12, decades after Ballad takes place.

Actually, I just wanted to shout at him a lot throughout the book, but that’s largely because of the writing style.

Suzanne Collins has never been known for her subtlety. One of the main complaints I heard about the original Hunger Games books were that they spoon-fed the audience too much. I think that’s a fair criticism. Since Ballad was written in the third-person, I’d hoped that Collins had gotten away from shoving information down the reader’s throats. Unfortunately, just the opposite of that happened. It got way, way worse. Large portions of Snow’s inner monologues are about the “Three C’s”: chaos, control, and contract. He has deep discussions with one of the antagonists, Dr. Gaul, about human nature and the purpose of the Games.

The didactic nature of the prose ruined the character of Serjanus for me as well. I was certain that I would like him at the beginning of the book: a District-born boy who was raised in the Capitol. But by the end, everything that came out of h is mouth was so preachy, I couldn’t stand it. I couldn’t cheer for him trying to rebel against the Capitol. Much like Snow, I just wanted him to shut up.

The unwanted philosophy discussions weren’t the only things with the subtlety of a sledge hammer. Collins made sure that her reader would never have to think for a minute to figure out what was going on. Take the folks songs that District 12’s tribute, Lucy Gray, sings. Snow’s inner monologue explains the meaning of each verse while she explains the songs. The lyrics themselves offer insights and clues, but they’re not that hard to figure out.

That’s far from the only time something like that occurs. Shortly before the tributes go into the arena, Snow drops a hint to Lucy Gray about how she might bring a weapon, of sorts, into the arena to help her.

She noticed the empty well where the cake of powder had sat an hour earlier. ‘Did there used to be powder here?’

‘There did, but–‘ began Coriolanus [. . .] ‘I thought you might want to use your own.’ [. . .]

Maybe he’d broken a rule or two by giving her the compact and suggest she fill it with rat poison, who knew?

I did cut out some of the above quote, but in less than two pages, it’s already revealed what the plan is. There’s no chance for the reader to guess at Snow’s hint or figure it out on their own. And for people who wouldn’t catch that hint, they’re robbed of the surprise.

This was just one of many examples, so I was really happy to see a scene where everything that happened in it was left implied. Snow gets caught cheating in the Games to help Lucy Gray, and is then expelled from the Academy and forced to enlist as a Peacekeeper. He gets called to meet with the dean of the Academy, thinking he’s going to be reward. When he gets to the meeting, however, he sees that the evidence of his cheating has been found.

There, arranged on the table like lab specimens, were three items: an Academy napkin stained with grape punch, his mother’s silver compact, and a dingy white handkerchief.

The meeting could not have lasted more than five minutes. Afterword, as agreed, Coriolanus headed directly to the Recruitment Center, where he became Panem’s newest, if not shiniest, Peacekeeper.

There. Perfect. The reader already knows the details of how Snow cheated, and the consequences he would face if he was caught. I was so happy that we were finally given a scene that doesn’t spell everything out for us. Something that finally left something to the reader’s imagination.

In the very next chapter, two and a half pages are dedicated to the details of the meeting between Snow and Dean Highbottom. Nothing left implied, nothing for the reader to wonder about.

The pacing really bothered me. For a series known for its action, this book is slow and plodding. There’s such a long wait before we even get to the Games, which was something that drew a lot of people into the series. A large portion of the book is taken up with pre-Hunger Games prep. While interesting at times, it also felt bloated, and I was chomping at the bit to get to the Games themselves.

When the Hunger Games finally begin, they’re disappointingly boring. Since we’re seeing this through Snow’s eyes, not Lucy Gray’s, we don’t see half of what goes on in the arena, and hear from the tributes even less.

After the Games, Snow becomes a Peacekeeper. He gets assigned to District 12, which is where the last third of the book takes place. It was a totally new setting, and the main conflict was so different from the first two-thirds of the story, it felt like a different book. It was just a slog for me to get through.

There were also the callbacks. For the most part, I didn’t mind them. At least, not the little ones, like lamb stew, or Snow’s grandmother mentioning that a news story will “catch fire”. It was the ones that were beaten over my head that annoyed me. Snow’s utter hatred for mockingjays, for example. Also, the song “The Hanging Tree”. We get to see its inspiration, and Lucy Gray write it. Some fans may have really liked these parts, but for me…well, I’ll just leave the wise words of Patton Oswalt here (NSFW video):

I don’t give a shit where the stuff I love comes from! I just love the stuff I love!

All that said, I don’t want to end on an entirely negative note. There were plenty of things that I did like about the book. Lucy Gray was a really good, colorful character. There was some ambiguity if her feelings for Snow were actually genuine, and her ultimate fate is left unknown. It gave the reader something to wonder about, even be hopeful for. Whatever happened to her, I’m squarely in her corner.

Despite my complaints about “The Hanging Tree”, I really did like some of the song lyrics. I’ve always been a fan of folk music, even if the narration felt the need to explain every verse to me. The only reason I might watch the inevitable film is to hear how those songs sound, instead having them awkwardly read to me by my audiobook’s narrator.

While I thought the pacing wasn’t great, it was also interesting to see life in the Capitol through the eyes of its citizens, not just the Hunger Games tributes. It was neat to see how the Games evolved, when tributes were treated like criminals, not superstars.

It even improved on something that really annoyed me in the original Hunger Games series. In the original, Katniss frequently fell unconscious and then was rescued by allies. Once she woke up, her allies would explain what she missed. It came off as a bit of a lazy way to move the plot forward. But that never happens to Snow, even when the situation would have absolutely warranted him being knocked unconscious. I can appreciate that Collins actually wrote the full scenes out for the readers to see, rather than getting information fed to us after.

I didn’t love this book, and it was disappointing for me in many ways. But if you read it and loved it, great! Just because it wasn’t for me doesn’t mean it can’t be the perfect book for you.

52 Children’s Books in 52 Weeks

52 Books in 52 Weeks: The Quest
Part 1: The Books
Part 2: The Authors

This isn’t a proper blog post, so much as an accountability booster for a reading project. I’ve never set goals for pleasure reading for myself before, this the only thing I had closely resembling a “goal” was “read all the books!”

I do have a career goal, though, which is to become a youth services librarian. One thing that’s important for me to do is to know what kids are currently into. The books I loved when I was 10 are not necessarily books kids today will love. To that end, my goal is to read 1 book from The New York Times best sellers for children each week.

There’s no one single list for children’s best sellers. Rather, NYT divides them into categories: picture book, children’s middle grade hardcover, children’s series, and young adult hardcover. For this, I’m just sticking to picture books, middle grade, and series.

Some ground rules for this project:

1. I will read from a different list each week. In order: picture book, middle grade hard cover, children’s series. Wash, rinse, repeat.
2. I will read the first* book on each list.
3. If I have already read the first book on the list, I will move to the second, and so forth.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to come back next year and report back with observations, and perhaps micro-reviews of each book.

*Except The Ickabog.

We Need to To Talk About J.K. Rowling

Trans Peer Support Lifeline (US): 877-565-8860
Mermaids Helpline (UK): 0844 334 0550

Before reading: If you’re not already aware of the controversy surrounding JK Rowling, I recommend looking up some of it to contextualize this post. This article is the most up-to-date one I’ve found.

I love Harry Potter. The book series has influenced my life in so many ways. It was a place to escape to during hard times, it gave me deeper bonds with my friends, and set my imagination ablaze. I grew up as the characters did. Shortly after my fifteenth birthday, I remember holding the recently-published Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in my hands and thinking, with slight awe, about how we were both now 15. To say that this series has meant a lot to me is an understatement.

I was pretty disappointed when it came to The Cursed Child, and only read it once. This is pretty telling for me–I knew the main series’s books so well that I could tell which lines of dialogue in the films had been lifted straight from the novels. I stopped following much of the Wizarding World updates after The Cursed Child. I didn’t see either of the Fantastic Beasts movies, even though that was a part of the Harry Potter universe I was always interested in. At that point I was tired of the expanded universe. Eventually, I just stopped caring about what J.K. Rowling had to say about the series. It was great for a time. I could enjoy the books and the universe in my own way, and not have to be bothered when Rowling said things like “wizards used to poop anywhere they wanted” and “Harry Potter has ED”.

Yes, these are two real things that Rowling said.

Then something changed. While discussing Harry Potter at the beginning of the year, one of my friends told me that J.K. Rowling was a TERF – a trans-exclusionary radical feminist. I didn’t believe it at first. Rowling not only wrote my childhood, but at the time, I thought she was an LGBTQAI+ advocate. She’s donated hundreds of millions of dollars to charity, including charities for human rights. I did some digging, and found, much to my disappointment, that my friend appeared to be right. After I read Rowling’s tweet about Maya Forstater, I had hoped that it was a mistake or misunderstanding, and that Rowling would offer some kind of apology. I wanted to continue to like this author that I’d previously admired so much.

Instead, Rowling doubled-down on her transphobic beliefs in a multi-thousand word essay, confirming what so many of her fans already knew. I’m not going to re-hash everything she said on Twitter and in this essay; by the time you read this, there will already be a million think pieces online that can give you the history of Rowling’s downfall better than I can. But I am going to say that I feel hurt, disappointed, and betrayed by this author I once loved. If I feel this way, I can’t begin imagine how trans and non-binary Harry Potter fans feel.

I want to use this post as a way to get some thoughts down on something that I, and probably many others, have been grappling with. That is, separating the art from the artist.

This didn’t used to be something I worried too much about. Chik-fil-a hates gay people? Fine, I won’t spend my money there. Hobby Lobby denies medication to its employees and its founder loots artifacts from the Middle-East? Good thing Michael’s is just down the street, and not entirely despicable. It used to be easy to not support celebrities or businesses that I didn’t agree with.

Of course, nothing stays that simple. One of the first times I really had to make a choice to not support an artist happened to me a couple years ago. My sister and I both love the show The Office, and we exchange mix CDs for Christmas every year. Yes, mix CDs, because we want to pretend it’s still 2005. Two years ago, I decided to make her an Office themed CD. I included the most prominent songs from the show, even finishing it with Hunter’s infamous “That One Night”. But I encountered a dilemma when it came to including “Forever” by Chris Brown. It’s a catchy song, and it plays during one of the most iconic and heartwarming scenes in the show.

On one hand, $1.29 for a song is such an insignificant amount of money that it would make no difference to Chris Brown’s success or wealth. On the other, Chris Brown has a history of assaulting multiple women, most famously Rihanna (who he then said provoked him into hitting her). In the end, I decided not to buy the song. I couldn’t justify supporting this abusive singer, even in a minimal way. It went against everything I stood for.

Things are easy to get cluttered. Should I still listen to Michael Jackson’s songs if I bought them years ago? Is it ethical to buy from Amazon, knowing how terribly its workers are treated?

Should I read The Ickabog?

I wanted to when it was first announced. It was originally published for free online, and I’ve heard really good things about it. But I couldn’t forget it was written by a TERF.

No, I eventually decided. Even if it was free to read online, I didn’t want to give Rowling any more page views than she already had.

I obviously can’t speak for every Harry Potter fan who feels betrayed by Rowling’s hurtful beliefs. It’s more of a struggle than I would have imagined for me to accept that someone I admired can hold such hateful beliefs. This was compounded for me when I took her philanthropy into account.

In psychology, there’s something known as schemas. Schemas are mental ways that we categorize the world. For example, “dog, cat, bird” could be in a schema for pets, animals, or maybe even, “things that have bitten me”.

When we encounter new information, we have to create a new schema for it, or expand an existing schema for the new information. For example, we might put “bird” in the schema of “things that fly”. Then, after seeing an airplane, our “things that fly” schema now needs to include airplanes. People, however, aren’t so easy to categorize. It’s very difficult to change our schemas when it comes to both complex concepts, and things that are firmly set in your mind.

We like to put people in boxes that are simple to categorize and explain. This is one of the reasons why it’s so easy to fall into stereotyping others. In general, I would put a TERF in the “bad people” schema, a philanthropist in the “good people” schema, and a favorite author in the “people I admire” schema. The problem for me – and, perhaps, many people – is that JK Rowling has become harder to define.

I can’t ignore that she is using her considerable platform and online presence to spread false and harmful information about trans people and share her transphobia. On the other hand, I also can’t forget what the Harry Potter books mean to me.

In the end, I decided that I will not consume any more Harry Potter media than I already have. I’ve unfollowed Rowling on all my social media platforms. I won’t be supporting anything that J.K. Rowling puts out in the future, nor will I visit the Harry Potter theme park again (which doesn’t sound like a huge sacrifice, but I only live 3 hours away and could go). Even when it comes to recommending books for kids, Percy Jackson or Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children are just as much fun as Harry Potter. And there will be a certain amount of guilt when I say what my Hogwarts house is.

And yet, I will always love the books.

If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you already know that Rowling being a TERF goes against everything that Harry Potter is about. It’s a story about how love is the greatest weapon we have, and that your real family and home may not be the one you’re born into. It’s a story that says however you’re born – poor, rich, Muggleborn – doesn’t determine the person you’ll be.

I grew up with these, and they grew up with me. The values at the core of the Harry Potter series: love, bravery, friendship, have never dimmed for me, even if the author has forgotten about them. These books will always be a big part of my life, and I can’t give that up entirely.

Of course, this is just the decision I have come to. This is something every Harry Potter fan has to figure out on their own. It’s okay if you can’t overlook Rowling’s transphobia, and give up on her and her work entirely. It’s okay if you’ve struggled with this. It’s okay to get rid of all your Harry Potter stuff.

If you do continue to support Rowling’s work, please think critically about what you are supporting and endorsing.

Remember that that greatest weapon we have against evil is love.

Trans women are women.
Trans men are men.
Trans rights are human rights.

If you want to help in the fight for the rights, safety, and health of trans people, please consider donating to a non-profit organization that supports trans people.

National Center for Transgender Equality (US)
Trans Lifeline
The Transgender Law Center
The Trevor Project
Mermaids (UK)

p.s., I’m not saying that you should donate and have the thank you note sent to JK Rowling’s publisher at:

J.K. Rowling
c/o Bloomsbury Publishing
PLC50 Bedford Square
London WC1B 3DP
United Kingdom

….but you totally could.

Sound by Alexandra Duncan

Before I get into this, I want to say that I read the novel and wrote this post before I heard about the controversy surrounding Alexandra Duncan’s novel, Ember Days. I am planning on commenting on it in the future, but this post is just about her novel Sound. 

After reading some pretty heavy stuff, I wanted to try something a bit lighter. I chose Sound by Alexandra Duncan, a standalone novel in her Salvage series. According to the description on Amazon, Salvage was praised as, “brilliant, feminist science fiction” that would appeal to fans of Firefly and Battlestar Galactica. I like all of those things, so I eagerly dove into Sound.

I really wanted to like this book. But I couldn’t.

It has everything I would normally love: strong female characters, a well thought-out and unique sci-fi setting, and a protagonist with PTSD who overcomes her fears to save the day. It’s well-written, and I sped through the first five chapters. But the main character, Miyole, makes a choice that drove me crazy, and I could never quite reconcile with it. Spoilers below.

Sound opens on Miyole, a sixteen-year-old research assistant on board a Deep Sound Research Institute (DSRI) spaceship. She researches pollinators like butterflies and bees for the purpose of terraforming and colonizing other planets. Right away I like the opening, how it centers on the small things in science fiction that you wouldn’t normally think about. Her ship is also organic and grown, made of of self-healing nacre. I love the idea of biological ships, and it’s an idea I’ve only seen used in a few sci-fi stories.

I also loved how much detail and thought was put into this story’s universe. A filthy, abandoned space station, or a city built of spindles under the sea of Encladeus. Like the need for pollinators, small aspects of life in space make the setting memorable.

The story really begins after a ship crashes into the Raganathon, the DSRI ship Miyole lives and works on. Pirates have attacked a trader vessel, and the survivors of the attack are taken on board the Raganathon. The survivors are a teenager named Cassia, her niece, and their cat. Cassia’s brother has been captured by the pirates, and likely sold into slavery. Cassia wants the DSRI ship to give chase and find her brother, but they refuse. They can’t change their entire course and mission for one person, who’s unlikely to be found. Cassia is furious about this, and Miyole is frustrated by her commander’s lack of action.

Working together – and accidentally taking the pilot Rubio along with them – Miyole and Cassia steal a shuttle and set out to save her brother.

It sounds really exciting, but this was the point where the book started getting really frustrating for me. Since she was twelve, Miyole’s dream was to join the DSRI, which is incredibly selective, and only launches new missions every few years. She had to be at least 18 to apply for a position with the DSRI, and she’s only sixteen. Desperate to be aboard the next mission, Miyole enlists her brother-in-law’s help to hack into government databases and change her birth year. This is a very dangerous and illegal thing to do. If Miyole gets caught, it’s not just the end of her career. It would also ruin her life, and the lives of her brother-in-law and his wife.

Stealing a shuttle and (more or less) kidnapping a pilot is going to land her in some serious trouble, and authorities looking closely at her records. But she doesn’t think about any of this, or consider the consequences until more than two-thirds of the way through the book.

I know that every story needs a jumping-off point, and this is where the adventure really begins. There’s some justification for it: Miyole’s  frustrated by DSRI’s inaction, and she has a crush on Cassia. But after seeing how much risk she took just to apply to the DSRI, and how much she wanted this job, I wanted to see more than that.

At one point in the book, Cassia is badly injured, and may not survive. I actually hoped that she would die, because then Miyole would be caught in space. If the person she risked her life and career for was gone, what would she do? Would she keep going to find Cassia’s brother, or return to DSRI with her tail between her legs? Or something else entirely? I would have loved to see how Miyole would justify leaving everything behind for Cassia, only for her to die.

But, Cassia lives, and the story continues.

The novel has the overarching plot of rescuing Cassia’s brother, and it’s tied together by a string of different adventures. Sometimes it felt like each step they took on their journey could be its own short story. Along with an eerie, abandoned space station, they have to deal with Cassia’s shady contacts, carbon dioxide poisoning, space pirates, alien monsters, and being enslaved themselves before they reach their goal. There were a lot of cool, detailed settings, especially the seas of Encladeus.

My main problem with this book was the characters. We first meet Cassia after she’s taken aboard the DSRI ship, so we don’t get to see what she’s like when she feels comfortable. Cassia is angry. She’s a cold survivalist, and will do whatever it takes to get her brother back, including murdering others. That’s where Cassia starts, and that’s where she stays. She has so few redeeming qualities I could never actually bring myself to like her. Miyole falls for her though, and likes her enough to steal a shuttle.

So when Cassia breaks Miyole’s heart, Miyole could very well be left with nothing. No career, not future, and not even a girlfriend to explore the stars with.

Since I chose this book from the #1000BlackGirlBooks list, I feel like I can’t end this entry without talking about race. Miyole is Haitian, but grew up in Mumbai after her home “the Gyre” was destroyed during a hurricane. She survived the hurricane, but her mother was killed, and Miyole was left with physical and psychological scars. Miyole’s mother made sure her daughter knew about her Haitian heritage, particularly the slave rebellion. It’s a source of strength for her, as is the memory of her mother. She often wonders if she can be as brave as her mother.

I am sad to report, though, that racial prejudice will still exist in the future. Miyole doesn’t really fit in with her Indian friends, which is one of the reasons she wants to get off the planet. Her accidental traveling companion, Rubio, also refers to her as “memsahib”, much to her annoyance. There’s still a decent amount of “othering”, even aboard the DSRI ship, but it’s largely microaggressions. As the story progresses and Rubio travels with Miyole and Cassia, he does learn the error of his ways and changes accordingly.

There was a lot to like about Sound, but unfortunately for me, I had a hard time getting into it. Even so, I may check out Sound‘s preceding novel, Salvage, which focuses on Miyole’s adoptive family.

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad YA Parents

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I’ve mentioned in a couple other posts that parents in YA novels have a tendency to be…well, terrible parents. This is presuming that they’re alive in the first place, considering how many YA protagonists are plucky orphans.

Living parents often have only a small role in the books they inhabit, so sometimes they may as well not even be there. Sometimes, too, the ones who are involved in the hero’s life are involved in the worst way. I can’t go through every example of parents in YA books not doing their job, but here’s a rundown of some of the most egregious examples of bad parenting I’ve seen recently. Let me see some of the terrible YA parenting you’ve seen!

This page contains spoilers for the following books:
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Valiant by Holly Black
Brave Story by Miyuki Miyabe
A Drop of Night by Stephen Bachmann
13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine feels like the mildest of these examples, so that’s where I’ll begin. The story kicks off with the main character, Jacob, traumatized after witnessing the violent death of his grandfather. Jacob and his father, Franklin, travel to the remote island where Grandpa Portman grew up. To his credit, Franklin does seem to care about Jacob’s mental health and well-being, but his main interest in the island is studying the native birds. He lets Jacob romp across the island alone, even after he acknowledges it’s a potentially dangerous place. He’s far more interested in bird-watching and the local beers to actually pay attention to his kid, even though he’s the reason they’re on the island in the first place.

It’s pretty standard neglectful parenting for these kinds of books, but it was Franklin’s last scene in the novel that disappointed me most. At the end of the book, Jacob decides that he needs to stay in 1940 with the peculiar children. But first, he wants to say goodbye to his father and explain what’s going on.

Jacob doesn’t get a chance to speak. Franklin instead calls Jacob crazy, and says that his friends are imaginary. One of the peculiar children show him her speciality ability, and Franklin faints. It’s a quick way to pass over a hard conversation, and now Jacob can leave his family behind without too much guilt. Because, you know, at least he tried to explain. Franklin just didn’t want to hear it.

A Drop of Night by Stephen Bachmann

This is a novel where the plot itself starts based on some poor parenting decisions. This book changes perspectives between the characters, Anouk and Auriele. Auriele is a young noblewoman living in France during the revolution. Her father builds a palace underground for his family to hide from the revolutionaries. When they break into her home, Auriele must flee to the subterranean palace with her sisters and mother. Auriele’s mother is too frightened to go, so she lets herself be killed by the revolutionaries instead, in front of her daughters.

Let me be clear: She could have escaped. Her kids did. But she actually ran back into her mansion to be killed.

At the very least, it served as foreshadowing, as she had a reason to be frightened of going underground. But I can’t say the same about our protagonist’s parents.

The novel’s real main character is Anouk, a seventeen-year-old genius who speaks five languages fluently, read all the psychology books in her local library, and is already studying art history at a college level. If that’s not insufferable enough for a single character, she’s also incredibly unlikeable, self-centered, and rude to everyone she meets. She blames this on – you guessed it – her parents!

Anouk reveals that she was adopted, and her parents adored her. Then, as she got older, Anouk’s parents had a biological child of their own. As soon as Anouk’s little sister was born, her parents totally forgot about her, ignored her, or actively resented her. Anouk even postulates that the reason her parents supported her studying abroad was because they wanted her away from them.

What?! It doesn’t matter if your kid was adopted or biological, or you have one of each. You love them the same. Anouk’s parents lived with her and loved her for at least a decade before her little sister came along. Love isn’t a switch you can turn on and off. If it was, breakups and funerals would be a lot easier.

Since this makes no sense to me, and because Anouk is so unpleasant, my headcanon is that her perception of her family is really skewed, and they would be perfectly nice to her if she wasn’t such a jerk.

Valiant by Holly Black

I liked most of the Holly Black books I’ve read, but I didn’t care for this one, even in high school. It was darker and edgier than my fifteen-year-old self was ready for, mainly because of the drug use in it. I should have known that this would be a bumpy ride from the beginning, though, after the main character, Val, discovers that her mother has been sleeping with Val’s boyfriend. This causes Val to run away and take up with three other homeless teenagers on the streets of New York City. Good job, mom.

To her credit, Val’s mom does try to contact her and get her to come home, but still. Boundaries, people.

Heads up: These last entries get pretty dark.

Brave Story by Miyuki Miyabe

This is a Japanese fantasy novel in which eleven-year-old Wataru flees to a magical world during a family crisis. Wataru’s father is leaving his mother for another woman, who is also pregnant with his child. Obviously, Wataru’s mother is devastated.

I need to preface this next bit by saying that I know that Japan and the United States have two very different cultures, and what Wataru’s mother does next may not be as shocking to a Japanese reader as it was to an American reader, namely me.

But it still should be at least a little shocking, because she tries to kill herself and Wataru after her husband leaves them. Japan does have one of the highest rates of suicide worldwide, and historically, some methods of suicide were seen as honorable. While I can’t know how a Japanese reader would feel about this suicide attempt, it certainly eeks me out. Having Wataru’s mom attempt suicide is already dark for what’s ostensibly a children’s book. That she attempts to kill Wataru too crosses the line, and should be disturbing for any reader.

What’s even weirder is how much I love this book, even after all this. If you like epic fantasy with a JRPG twist (and some seriously dark moments), I really recommend this one.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Of course one of the most controversial books from the past few years would make it on this list. This entry is also based solely on the book, not the Netflix show, as I haven’t watched it.

And what a book it is! I could go on for a long time about its messaging, but that’s for another post.

If you don’t know the premise of 13 Reasons Why yet, here it is: Hannah Baker killed herself, and recorded tapes explaining why she did so. The tapes were then given to the people who were her “13 Reasons”.

This entry might be a surprising one, considering that Hannah’s parents played such a small role in the novel. But that’s entirely the point.

You see, in this book’s universe, adults don’t exist. The few that we do see are inept and only push Hannah further into her depression. Hannah’s parents are only mentioned a couple times, and we never see them “on screen”, like we do with a couple of her teachers. They may as well be non-existent.

I understand that kids have a secret world that adults around them, including their parents, are never fully privy to. Hannah’s parents probably didn’t know the depths of her depression, yet they knew that something was wrong. Hannah was grounded because she’d started receiving poor grades, so we know they didn’t totally ignore her. Even so, there’s no indication that they ever tried to help her out of the darkness she was drowning in, or even look to see if it was there.

Kids, and young adults, need support from the adults in their lives for plenty of different reasons. But it’s not always easy for them to get it: they might not know where to look, or know how to ask. They might not want to ask. It’s the adult’s job – parent, teacher, older sibling – to notice that the kid needs help. A cry for help shouldn’t go ignored.

Which is why this final entry pisses me off so much.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Like the novel itself, this example is short and to the point. Melinda has been through a traumatic event that has nearly made her mute, and no one knows what happened to her. Her parents only know that she’s changed since entering high school. She’s deeply unhappy and feels lost in her own life.

I’ll let Melinda tell the rest of it.

I open up a paper clip and scratch it across the inside of my left wrist.
[ . . .] I draw windowcracks of blood, etching line after line until it stops hurting. It looks like I arm wrestled a rosebush.

Mom sees the wrist at breakfast.

Mom: I don’t have time for this, Melinda.


If you are in crisis or having suicidal thoughts, please seek help. Remember you are not alone. Consider reaching out to family, friends, or use one of the resources listed.

And I’m sorry if your parents are as bad as any of these.

On October 5, we’ll be returning to the review format with Sound by Alexandra Duncan. Hope to see you there!

I Read 30 YA books in 15 Weeks

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m working on getting a Master’s in Library and Information Science. As you might imagine, an MLIS degree requires a lot of reading. Unfortunately, most of that reading is very dry, detailing cataloging techniques or which almanacs are best suited to find information for patrons. It’s valuable for my future work, but it’s boring as hell. Which is why I was so excited when I took a class on young adult literature, and my professor said that we’d be reading 30 YA books over the course of the semester. I was initially elated, cracking open my to-be-read list and asking for reading suggestions on Facebook. Because of school and work, I didn’t have a ton of time. I spent weekends binge-reading and writing page goals in my planner, next to all the other assignments and appointments I had to take care off.

Here’s what I learned from reading 30 YA books in 15 weeks.

Read about high school, dream about high school.

I read Speak and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian over one weekend. Both books star teenagers going through their freshman year of high school. I didn’t have a great high school experience, but thankfully it wasn’t nearly as bad as Melinda’s in Speak. Even so, I’ve never wished to go back or felt that those were my “glory days”. After reading so much so fast, all I could dream about was high school. I was more than happy forgetting all those little details, but apparently my subconscious still remembers them. Getting older isn’t always easy, but waking up in my own apartment and remembering I’m 31 and never have to go back to high school is a huge relief.

I kind of understand some censorship.

I don’t like censorship as a general rule. I talk about this more in-depth in an upcoming post, but the idea of banning a book because someone doesn’t like its content drives me crazy. I know that we want to protect kids, and there are scary things in the world. I also think kids are more resilient than we give them credit for. Challenging books because they contain ideas that might be uncomfortable or against someone’s views feels insulting to me. I understand wanting to preserve kids’ innocence for as long as possible, but I also think we need to have faith in them and let them learn to think for themselves.

And then I read The Devil’s Mixtape by Mary Borsellino.

This was a brilliantly written book, with some beautiful prose and shifting point of views. It’s also intended for a teen audience, with passages filled with validation for young adults who feel lost or alone. It will also give you nightmares, because one of those POVs is from Ella, the mastermind behind a mass shooting known as Cobweb. Ella’s chapters are disturbing and twisted. If this book was well-known in the U.S., I could almost guarantee it would be one of ALA’s most frequently challenged books. Though I tend to scoff at book challenges, this is one of the few times I could understand it.

Ella talks about iconography, and how she immortalized herself through the shooting. She writes about other serial killers with admiration, and the reader sees her path to becoming a murderer. It took me two attempts to finish this book in its entirety because the Ella passages are just so brutal. So much in this book is about saving teens like Ella, helping them find ways to be who they are. My fear is that someone who feels like Ella, who wants to burn the world, will read a book like this and only take away something meaningful from the darkest, most twisted parts of it.

I want to be clear: I don’t think that books or video games or heavy metal music makes anyone psychotic. I’m also against censorship and would fight against a proposed challenge to The Devil’s Mixtape, and any other book. At the same time, I totally understand why well-meaning adults would want to keep a book like this out of a kid’s hands.

Parents in YA Lit are stupid.

I talked about this a little in a post about Tithe, but parents in these books are so incredibly neglectful. If they’re even alive, and not downright abusive. Part of this is just par for the course for the age group. You can’t go on adventures and save the world if your mom is nagging you to clean your room. There’s a few instances where this isn’t the case — I love Starr’s parents in The Hate U Give, for example — but for the most part parents are obstacles, or totally ignored. I’ve started compiling a list of stupid parenting decisions I’ve seen throughout my reading, and I’ll be posting it shortly.

Just because you add cell phones doesn’t make it modern.

In 2010, Lois Duncan, author of I Know What You Did Last Summer and other thriller novels got an opportunity to give her novels a facelift. She modernized the novels by giving characters cell phones and changing their outfits, but not a whole lot else. Not knowing about these revisions, I was totally confused when characters from a book that was originally published in the 1970s started talking about cell phones and the Iraq War. After reading the updated version, the changes were not only pointless, but distracting. For instance, the character’s cell phones are always conveniently dead, so they’re never actually used or come into the plot in any significant way.

Even with the dead cell phones, the rest of the story hasn’t been updated to match. For example, Barry is losing interest in his girlfriend, Helen. He tries to dissuade her from wanting to marry him by saying that if he got married, he wouldn’t want a wife who works. This wouldn’t have been so outdated in the 1970s, when women were entering the workforce in earnest. Today, it’s just misogynistic. Julie’s mother also quit working to raise her daughter, and only went back to work as a substitute teacher after her husband died. That’s not enough to support a household. How does she manage to pay Julie’s cell phone bills?

Non-fiction books need more love.

If you asked me what my favorite genre is, I’m unlikely to say “non-fiction”. I associate it with dry books about old wars or politicians, and things that I don’t care about in general. I only started warming up to non-fiction after reading A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean. After that I read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, and the autobiographies West With the Night by Beryl Markham and Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. I really enjoyed all of them, but thought of those books as outliers in the non-fiction genre. They weren’t boring, and reading them never felt like a chore. I was once even late to work because I’d stayed up too late reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Thankfully, my boss was a voracious reader, and understood. In fact, he was the one who leant me his copy of A River Runs Through It in the first place.

Non-fiction can still be pretty hit or miss with me, but I’ve definitely warmed up to it. As a teenager, though, I would only ever seek out non-fiction as part of a school assignment. I’m sure many teenagers today feel the same way. That’s a shame, because there’s some really great non-fiction that follows a narrative format and reads like a novel.

It’s not just teenagers who ignore non-fiction, either. Awards for YA books disproportionately honor fiction, and may not even allow non-fiction to be nominated. Fortunately, the Young Adult Library Services Association began the Nonfiction Award in 2010. If you’re like me and don’t think you enjoy non-fiction books, I urge you to take a look at the winners and honorees. You’ll probably find something you really enjoy. Give it a chance!

First Person Present Tense is a Thing Now

I picked up The Hunger Games in 2012, and got sucked in right away. The writing style was so different from what I normally read–that is, first person present tense. Until then, I don’t think I’d read any book that used present tense like that. I found it quite jarring and direct, but it fit with Katniss’s character. Later, I read The Help, also written in first person present tense. It was a way of writing that gave the novel a unique voice and helped the books stand out from their contemporaries. Then I read Divergent, which wasn’t my favorite book, and found the first-person present tense kind of annoying. I thought it was too direct and didn’t flow well. Instead of making the book better, it made it harder for me to read.

As I started reading all these YA books, I noticed that this was becoming a common way of writing. Here’s a list of the books for I read for my YA Lit course that use first person present tense:

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (1999)
The Fault in our Stars by John Green (2012)
Simon vs. the Homo Sapien Agenda by Becky Albertalli (2015)
Sound by Alexandra Duncan (2015)
A Drop of Night by Stefan Bachman (2016)
The Clockwork Dynasty by Daniel H. Wilson (2017)
The Things She’s Seen by Amberlin Kwaymullina & Ezekiel Kwaymullina (2018)
On The Come Up by Angie Thomas (2019)

These aren’t the only books I’ve come across that use this narration format, just the ones I’ve read for this project. I’m not any sort of novel historian, but there’s definitely been in uptick in it since the 2010s. I’m tempted to blame it on the success of The Hunger Games, though of course I have no proof of that. I don’t mind it as much as I used to, but I still find it jarring at times. Take this brief passage from A Drop of Night, which irked me way too much.

I tear into the bathroom, drag on the same clothes I flew here in. Skinny jeans, chunky-knit gray sweater with a kangaroo pocket, the brogues. Hope dinner isn’t a formal affair. Open the hall door. And almost knee Lilly in the face.

Short, terse sentences like this are better used for intense scenes, but most of the book is written in the same style. To be clear: I actually enjoyed A Drop of Night, but the author’s style didn’t always work for me.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that first-person present tense is a Thing now. It’s become so prevalent in novels – at least, in YA novels – that it no longer stands out by itself. It doesn’t pack the same punch it used to. Now that it’s been normalized, it’s up to the author to make the book stand out on its own. Unfortunately, not all authors are up to the task.

This summer, I was fortunate to attend the SCBWI’s Summer Spectacular. Phillip Pullman, one of my favorite authors, was the keynote speaker. I was totally engrossed in his talk, but I had to pause the video and write down exactly what he had to say about present-tense writing.

I don’t like to be confined in one person’s mind. A variant of this is the present tense, which is a scourge of present day writing. I can’t read books written in the present tense. The implausibility barrier is just too high. I can’t believe that this character is A: running down the road, B: writing about it, and C: seven years old.

Phillip Pullman, 2020

I have played with present tense in my own writing, and I can see its use. Even so, I let out a cheer when I found out an author I love and I are in agreement about this.

Switching Point of View Is a Thing Now, Too

So you’ve got a really great idea for a character and a story they could fit into. But you also have a great idea for ANOTHER character and another story they could fit into. Well, you could always work on a companion piece, or a sequel, or a prequel, or–oh, you don’t want to do those things? You want to squish them in the same book together? Even though they lived hundreds of years apart?

Well, I’ve got great news for you! With our newly patented switching-POV mechanics, your novel can have TWO protagonists and TWO storylines for the price of one! Does it need to make sense? No! Should it be balanced between characters? Of course not! Is it trendy? Absolutely!

Okay, books that change point of view characters are not necessarily new. Little Women, first published in 1868, switched chapters between the March sisters frequently. A Game of Thrones was first published in 1996, and also uses changing POVs to tell the story. I’ve just seen it used so much more lately, especially in YA novels. And, despite my introduction to the topic, I don’t always hate POV switches. There are plenty novels that use it as an effective storytelling technique. When done right, having more than one POV character enhances the story and adds depth to it. This is exactly the case with novels like A Game of Thrones and The Clockwork Dynasty. It makes sense to tell the stories in separate chapters, because the characters may be separated by hundreds of miles, or even hundreds of years. I also liked how The Things She’s Seen used two points of view to tell the story, but one character’s chapters are told in prose, and the other’s in poetry. It’s ambitious to weave together multiple narratives and still have the story come together.

However, There are plenty of times when I’ve seen this technique used badly. For every good example of POV switches I’ve seen, there’s two that are done poorly. I’ve read quite a few novels where the perspective changes to show you what a different character is thinking or feeling, rather have the narration illustrate it.When this isn’t done well, it feels lazy and becomes a crutch for the author to take a writing shortcut.

Another problem is authors using alternating perspectives as padding. This was one of the (admittedly many) problems I had with the novel An Ember in the Ashes. The book alternates between two characters’ perspectives: Laia and Elias. During the second act, Laia’s chapters are pretty boring. They don’t move the plot forward or reveal anything new about the characters. It really felt like Laia’s chapters were only there because the author had decided the POV had to change every chapter, regardless of the needs of the narrative. The result was a book that had a lot of wasted space and could have been much shorter.

The one that drove me craziest for this project was A Drop of Night. There, the reader is given two different perspectives: one of the main character, Anouk, and the other of Auriele. Auriele lived two hundred years before Anouk was born. Her chapters don’t appear on a consistent basis, and they add very little to the story as a whole. They’re barely connected to Anouk’s story. The small amount of valuable information we do get from Auriele’s perspective could have been revealed much more effectively in the main storyline. It would raise the stakes for Anouk and keep up the tension of the mystery at hand.

While I might not love POV switches, they do have their place and can be used to enhance a story and make it better. Even so, it’s all too easy to use them as a crutch, and readers can see through that. If you’re going to have multiple perspectives, make sure they’re an essential part of the story. If you could omit entire chapters and still have the novel largely intact, it’s time to re-think, edit, and re-write as needed.

Overall, I had a lot of fun reading all these books, even if it was at a marathon pace. The class was really great and I learned a lot about the history of YA books and currently publishing trends. If this is something you’re interested in, I recommend the book Young Adult Literature: From Romance to Realism by Michael Cart. It’s very informative and easy to digest, and one of the better textbooks I’ve ever had.

I also want to say that if you’re over the age of 18, there’s absolutely no shame in reading or enjoying books made for younger audiences. Many of these books have themes, ideas, and conflicts that run just as deep as novels intended for adults. Just because the characters are younger doesn’t mean that they’re not worthwhile books for adults as well as teenagers.

Additionally, if you typically like YA but have gotten a little tired of YA tropes, I recommend looking up the Alex Awards. This is a literary award that honors adult books that would appeal to YA fans. It can be pretty refreshing when you don’t think you can stand another book about a sixteen-year-old living in a dystopia.

Right now, I’m in my fifth semester at school, taking classes devoted to children’s literature and children’s librarianship. After I’ve concluded that semester, I hope I’ll be able to come back with a similar post about insights into children’s literature.

Come back and visit on September 21, when I’ll be looking at one of the most ubiquitous tropes in YA fiction: bad parents.

Hope to see you then! Happy reading!