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Page-Turner Thursday this week is dedicated to two frequently banned books. I am a firm believer in the freedom to choose reading material, and that parents and teachers and teens can make appropriate decisions together. The right to read these novels should never, ever be taken away from others. These books save lives. These books give hope. These books give a voice to YA who often believe they don’t have one.
Crank by Ellen Hopkins
From Goodreads: In Crank, Ellen Hopkins chronicles the turbulent and often disturbing relationship between Kristina, a character based on her own daughter, and the “monster,” the highly addictive drug crystal meth, or “crank.” Kristina is introduced to the drug while visiting her largely absent and ne’er-do-well father. While under the influence of the monster, Kristina discovers her sexy alter-ego, Bree: “there is no perfect daughter, / no gifted high school junior, / no Kristina Georgia Snow. / There is only Bree.” Bree will do all the things good girl Kristina won’t, including attracting the attention of dangerous boys who can provide her with a steady flow of crank.
Soon, her grades plummet, her relationships with family and friends deteriorate, and she needs more and more of the monster just to get through the day. Kristina hits her lowest point when she is raped by one of her drug dealers and becomes pregnant as a result. Her decision to keep the baby slows her drug use, but doesn’t stop it, and the author leaves the reader with the distinct impression that Kristina/Bree may never be free from her addiction.
My review from April, 2011: Extraordinary book about the use of crystal meth and heroin by a young woman who had lived a near perfect life until her first hit. Then the monster took over, changing her life forever. Written in prose, one of the most unique books I’ve ever read. Loosely based on Mrs. Hopkins’ personal experience with her daughter.
Why I believe this is an important YA novel: Just once. That’s all it takes for a person to become addicted to crank. This novel is raw and brutal and direct and real. It’s exactly what some YA need to read. Yes, there’s drugs, sex, alcohol and everything else that will make a person squirm. Good. Squirming is good. Dying from a drug overdose happens way too often. I personally know people who have been addicted to drugs. It’s a living nightmare. For the YA. For the adults. Save a life – share this with others.
For more information on Ellen Hopkins and her novels, check her website: http://ellenhopkins.com/YoungAdult/
Scars by Cheryl Rainfield
From Goodreads: Kendra, fifteen, hasn’t felt safe since she began to recall devastating memories of childhood sexual abuse, especially because she still can’t remember the most important detail– her abuser’s identity. Frightened, Kendra believes someone is always watching and following her, leaving menacing messages only she understands. If she lets her guard down even for a minute, it could cost Kendra her life. To relieve the pressure, Kendra cuts; aside from her brilliantly expressive artwork, it’s her only way of coping. Since her own mother is too self-absorbed to hear her cries for help, Kendra finds support in others instead: from her therapist and her art teacher, from Sandy, the close family friend who encourages her artwork, and from Meghan, the classmate who’s becoming a friend and maybe more. But the truth about Kendra’s abuse is just waiting to explode, with startling unforeseen consequences. Scars is the unforgettable story of one girl’s frightening path to the truth.
Watch the book trailer here:
My review from November, 2010: I recently heard the following statistics: 1 out of 4 girls are sexually abused and 1 out of 6 boys are sexually abused. Scary numbers indeed! Scars is an important, emotional story about sexual abuse and cutting. It is hard to read, but even harder to put down. Whether you or someone you know has been abused or whether you want to understand the physical/spiritual/sexual/emotional impact, this novel is IT! There is a lot of intrigue and questions as the reader is led on a journey with the MC to discovering her perpetrator so that she can move forward on her path to healing. This novel will haunt you long after you put it down. Truly memorable. A must read.
Why I believe this is an important YA novel: Scars is one of the most daring, bold novels I have read on the subject of abuse and cutting. So many young adults don’t know whom to turn to when they’re abused. They may even begin to self-mutilate by cutting to deal with the pain. No one should ever have to experience what transpired in this Scars. But it happens, much more frequently than any of us want to believe. This novel gives voice to those YA. This novel will help guide them to getting the help necessary. For those who wonder why a teen would need a book to help them figure this out, instead of talking to an adult, it’s because many don’t know how. They don’t know what to do, and the pain is so great, they don’t believe others will believe them or will help protect them from a sexual predator. Scars has the ability to change that. Don’t be afraid of it. Don’t take it lightly. Read it, pass it along to others who may need it, too. Even if all is well, in your life, Scars can be a reminder of the blessings in life! Don’t take it lightly.
For more information on Cheryl Rainfield and her novels, check out her website: http://www.cherylrainfield.com/
Skinny is a must-read for every girl! I’d like to see it in every school and library, too, because body image is a critical part of a person’s self esteem!
My review: Oh boy! Does SKINNY know how to crawl into your mind and mess you up! She’s vicious, and I haven’t met one girl who hasn’t heard her at least once in her lifetime!!!! Does she speak to you a lot? Do you listen to her?
You must read Skinny to find out what I mean. Pick up this YA novel and you’ll go on a journey of discovering one’s worth with Ever, the main character of this novel. This is a powerful story about body image, obesity, perceptions, family dynamics, and learning to love yourself. This is not a novel for the weak of heart. Drastic, necessary measures were taken in this novel. Anyone who knows someone who has been morbidly obese or has ever heard a voice in their head telling them that they’re ugly, needs to read this novel.
I deeply appreciate Donna Cooner’s honesty. She doesn’t mince words. The story reads quickly. There is a cast of characters readers will find interesting, especially Rat who could be a role model for a lot of guys out there. I also was taken in by Whitney who was absolutely obsessed with doing a makeover for Ever. Like her or dislike her, there are girls out there just like her. Makes you think about how focused our society is on image!
One last thing—and it’s a personal perspective. If you see yourself first as a body, then it’s hard to ever be truly happy. But see yourself first as a mind, heart, soul and then a person who has a body to do positive things with the gifts you’ve been given, and I truly believe it’ll be much easier to focus on achieving your dreams and goals. Think about it.
Put this on your must-read list. Discover Skinny – find the true Ever. You just might find yourself.
My deepest thanks to Scholastic for the ARC I picked up at the BEA of Skinny.
1. I personally don’t know any female who hasn’t at one time in her life had a “Skinny” speak to her. What do you think is the most important message you can tell yourself when dealing with “Skinny?”
2. There is a lot of focus on our bodies: being beautiful, wearing the right clothes, being thin. It is a message we’re all bombarded with every day. What, if anything, would you like to see change?
A: The media inundates young people every day with the message that value depends on the way you look. I hope someday we can break free of those narrow expectations and allow our vision of beauty to become much more diverse. I know so many beautiful people, and they all look different. It’s not about how they look, it’s about who they are.
3. Music is an extremely important part of Ever’s life. She loves to sing. But because of her weight, she refuses to consider auditioning for the school musical. If you were to meet a young adult who has a beautiful voice but believes she’s too heavy to audition, what advice would you give her?
A: Music has intense emotional power. A song can instantly connect a listener to a vivid, visceral-filled response. In SKINNY, I selected powerful ballads with lyrics that spoke to Ever at that point in her journey. Even now, when I listen to those songs, I get teary. The emotional connection is so potent, it puts me right back in the story. By selecting a favorite song that stirs gutsy, bold feelings, I believe a hesitant performer can overcome fear and negative energy. Some examples? Just listen to “I Am Here” (The Color Purple) or “Listen” (Dreamgirls).
4. Rat is one of my favorite characters. He is an integral part of Ever’s support system, especially when she takes the biggest step to change her life. (I’m not saying what it is because I want readers to find out on their own.) What qualities do you feel a person needs to possess in order to be a trustworthy support?
A: Our closest, most trusted, friends need to have the ability to both love us as we are and to support us as we change. Good friends help us become the person we want to be, but still keep true to their own unique identity in the process. We can trust them with our biggest dreams and, even though we aren’t always the most perfect friend in return, they don’t let us down. In my mind that is the true test of a trustworthy friend. They see you at your worst, but don’t give up on you.
5. There is a lot of emphasis on diet and exercise in our society. Obviously, it’s to have a healthy lifestyle. Yet, millions of Americans struggle with this issue. Why do you think the message of healthy eating and exercise isn’t getting through to people?
A: I think there is a huge conflict in the messages we receive. On one hand, we’re told to exercise and eat healthy. On the other, we’re bombarded with fast food and drink advertisements that tell us the path to true happiness and social acceptance is exactly the opposite. Combine those confusing messages with the difficulty of trying to break bad nutrition habits rooted in childhood, and we have our current situation. I was raised in the South, so fried food and desserts were a staple. Food was used as a reward and big nightly meals were a required part of family life. That was my nutritional foundation. Later, as a college student in the era of the microwave, processed foods were quick and common. Now I know the importance of good nutrition, but it isn’t a something that comes easily and naturally. Eating mindfully and exercising frequently take thought and planning. I have come to the realization it’s worth it, but it was a definite journey.
For more information on Donna Cooner and Skinny, visit her website: http://www.donnacooner.com/
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Shine, By Lauren Myracle
I have never met you, but I am a member of what I would call a family of YA lit bloggers, enthusiasts, and writers. What happened to you regarding the National Book Award fiasco must have been personally frustrating, painful, perhaps even devastating. I can only imagine the roller coaster of emotions you must have gone through once told that Shine had been nominated in the Young People’s Literature category, and then having it recanted, announced to the world that it was a mistake, a slip-up of the letter, “C” for “S” and an “n” for an “m” that it was Chime by Franny Billingsley, which was the novel that was actually nominated for this award.
And then you were asked to do something really tough – withdraw your book from the nomination. Once again, I can only imagine how this request squeezed your heart, left you reeling.
But somehow you did it. You found the inner strength to set aside what I envision to be tremendous disappointment and you withdrew Shine from the NBA. You did it with incredible dignity. (Readers, if you haven’t read the statement, here is a link to the Publisher’s Weekly article: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/49143-shine-withdrawn-as-nba-young-people–s-literature-nominee.html) More information can be obtained through the Huffington Post Article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/17/lauren-myracle-withdraws-national-book-awards_n_1015649.html
I want to thank you, Lauren. Because your behavior, your response to this unimaginable experience was totally first class. Despite the turmoil, you didn’t sling mud or have a public fit. You show others what it means to handle tremendous disappointment and personal pain with respect and grace. In turn, you also have bolstered the message of Shine. Bullying of any kind is unacceptable.
I understand people are outraged for you. I too am outraged. But setting that aside I want you to know how much I deeply admire you and respect you for being a role model. We get more than enough of the opposite every day – so much so that some have lost all sense of boundaries and will say anything and everything to others and justify being rude and disrespectful and abusive because whatever happened justifies their reaction. Personally, it’s cool to be classy. It’s cool to have dignity. It’s cool to write a book that is so powerful and important that it can change the way people act and react toward others. It’s uncool to bully. It’s uncool to call others names.
You have shown through your actions how to take a major disappointment and use it to make a difference in other peoples’ lives. In your time of distress you thought about the young adults who could benefit, asking NBA to make a donation to the Matthew Shepard Foundation (http://www.matthewshepard.org/), which works tirelessly to “replace the hate in this world with understanding, compassion, and acceptance.”
I wish you tremendous success, Lauren. And encourage everyone to go out and support you by purchasing and/or reading your novels.
To learn more about Lauren Myracle her is a link to her website: http://www.laurenmyracle.com/ Readers can find a list of all her books on Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/157676.Lauren_Myracle?origin For a synopsis of Shine here is the direct link to the Goodreads page: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8928054-shine
After a few conversations with some teens, I compiled this list to help readers determine whether a friend is really a frienemy. Take a look:
…goes behind your back, undermines you.
…sabotages your successes.
…will say one thing to your face, then tells someone else the opposite.
…blames you for his poor choices or actions.
…will use subtle and not so subtle putdowns to eat at your self-esteem.
…makes you have self-doubts.
…has to ‘one up’ you all the time.
…encourages failure not success or encourages you to do something that seems unattainable or dangerous.
…tells your secrets.
…laughs at you or makes fun of you, especially in front of others (And often says, “I was joking.” Can’t you take a joke?”)
If you have a frienemy in your life, my advice is to break off this relationship. Clearly, it’s unhealthy.
Award-winning author, Paul Volponi=
Heart-stopping, powerful, exceptional, and true-to-life! These are just a words that describe the novels by The King of YA Urban Fiction, Paul Volponi. Volponi’s YA novels are: Rikers High, Response, Hurricane Song, Rucker Park Setup, Rooftop, Black and White, Homestretch, The Hand You’re Dealt and in May, 2011 Crossing Lines described by Volponi as a YA novel “about a macho football player whose sister’s best friend decides he needs to wear lipstick and then a dress to school.” What’s it like to walk in someone else’s shoes? Can’t wait to read Volponi’s characters’ perspectives and the lessons learned! In 2012 The Final Four will be published. It’s “about four players at the Final Four of the NCAA Basketball Tournament (a political and social look at that event and its effect on players’ lives.)” The conclusion to Black and White will be published by Viking – pub. date to be announced.
I hope EVERYONE reads Volponi’s books, especially teens and educators, and our politicians could learn a few things from him too! He opens windows to society and urban youth that few have the guts to see, let alone write about. I’m certain Volponi has shared only a small part of what he has seen and experienced through the years as a former teacher for incarcerated teens at Rikers and by teaching in a drug day-treatment center.
I personally have never met Volponi, but he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who walks around seeing himself as a hero or even the type of guy who lives to be thanked or for that matter special or any different than the rest of us. But based on everything I have read I am certain he has made a tremendous impact on young adults and helped quite a few on the sometimes perilous journey of growing up.
Here’s what think. Volponi’s work as an author and teacher changes lives. He gives readers a gift and it’s up to us to decide what to do with it. Do we walk away, maybe tell others what powerful books he’s written, or do we do something in this world, big or small, to make it a little better for someone else? – Ultimately that’s what Volponi’s saying. Life can be really crappy (big time understatement) but what are we going to do to change it? What’s truly valuable to you?
I won’t forget these books and in honor of this interview I am offering readers the opportunity to enter to win one Volponi novel – your choice of one of the eight pictured below.
To learn more about Paul Volponi, his novels, and to read excerpts, please visit his website at: http://www.paulvolponibooks.com/
1. Q: In all your books you do an excellent job portraying the complexity of adults. They are users/abusers/bullies/exploiters, but also role models/leaders/mentors. Ultimately, what do you hope young adults and adults will draw from these portrayals and why?
2. Q. I was struck by the observation that each one of your books highlights how one simple decision can greatly alter the life of not just the one making the choice, but those around him. Often the young adult doesn’t recognize how his choice would lead to such a horrific path of destruction or in some cases a positive change. How can other young adults learn from these situations and hopefully avoid the destructive ones all together?
3. Q. Your books reflect a clear and accurate picture of racial tensions and prejudices in real settings like Rikers, the Metrodome in New Orleans during Katrina, and in schools, which I believe will surprise many of your readers. Change is extremely slow and positive action is the key. Politicians often fail. So given this perspective, what would you like to see young adults and adults DO to improve this dire, dismal relationship among races.
4. Q. Another observation is that your books clearly show that money and material things are nothing in comparison to the love, respect, support of family, but that our society places a greater value on the material than relationships. What advice do you have to give young adults to keep the WANTS in perspective when they’re inundated daily with newest and greatest.
5. Q. Everyone faces difficult moments. If you could give something – either an small object or a piece of paper with words written on it – for a young adult to carry around in his pocket or wallet and pull out when he doesn’t know what to do, what would it be or what would it say and why?
Rucker Park Setup
Black and White
The Hand You're Dealt
Extraordinary Author Jennifer Brown
It is with tremendous gratitude and admiration that I share with my readers this incredible interview with Jennifer Brown, author of one of the most powerful books I have ever read, Hate List. There are many fine YA novels on the market, but only a few have the ability to impact the reader in such a emotional and visceral manner. Hate List, in my opinion is a must read for every teen, teacher, and parent. It shows the fragile line between being bullied and bullies and the horrendous consquences that can occur when an individual has had too much or has been pushed over the edge. Personally, I believe that Hate List should be required reading for middle school and high school students. To see reviews or for more information here’s the link to Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/y9a8m5w or Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6316171-hate-list AT THE END OF THIS INTERVIEW ARE FIVE WAYS TO WIN AN AUTOGRAPHED COPY OF HATE LIST! Please enter!
Q: As the reader, I went through an array of powerful emotions reading Hate List. What was the emotional experience like for you as you wrote the novel, especially since characters live and breathe for the author?
A: At times it was a bit tough. I was, in some ways, reliving some of the things that happened to me in school, and that brought back emotions that I hadn’t felt in a long time. But fortunately, I also write humor, and having my weekly column was very helpful in getting me out of somber mode and into a lighter state of mind at least one day every week.
Q: Have you personally experienced violence or bullying? If so, how did the experience impact your life and influence writing Hate List?
A: Yes, I was bullied in junior high and part of high school. It very much influenced who I became as a person. Other than being tripped in a crowded lunch room and receiving threats that I was going to be beat up, I wouldn’t say I was a victim of violence, really. More, the bullying I endured was along the lines of rumors, gossip, and “mean girl” stuff. What happened to me did impact not only the writing of Hate List (in fact, some of the bullying scenes are very similar to things that happened to me), but have impacted my life in that I now have a means to reach out to students and talk to them about bullying. That is very important to me. Nobody should have to go through what I went through, and I know that what I went through was nothing compared to what some kids out there are going through.
Q: Since Hate List came out on the market, what has surprised you the most? Readers? Reviews? Reactions? Something in the story you would have changed or perceived differently?
A: Librarians. I have been the most surprised by librarians. I mean, I’ve always had a love for libraries, but I never, until now, realized how passionate
Hate List, by Jennifer Brown
librarians can be — not only about reading, but about sharing books with readers. I’ve visited a lot of schools since Hate List came out, and am always just… floored and fascinated… at how the librarians are the heartbeat of the school. They know all the kids. They know who needs to hear my message the most. And they get so excited about sharing a good book with “just the right student.” Librarians rule!
Q: If there were anything that you could have said to Nick and/or Valerie to have prevented the tragedy, what would it have been?
A: It gets better. It does. If you can just hang on and get through this bad time… life gets so much better. You will graduate and leave these mean people behind and will never, ever have to see them again.
Q: We’ve all heard the verbiage, History repeats itself. How do you think our society can reduce or prevent the violence you describe in Hate List?
A: I wish I knew how to make it stop! But the best I can say is… keep talking about it. The more we talk about it, the more we learn how to make it better, no matter what the problem is. Talk to your kids about it. Talk to your students about it. Talk to each other about it. And encourage the young adults in your life to be nice, to be responsible. The best way to do this, by the way, is by modeling nice behavior. There are so many adult bullies out there — all you have to do is check out comments on any given message board or blog site… or watch some reality TV… to see that.
You know, one thing that continually amazes me is how many people really only think bullying is bullying if someone is physically harmed. But that’s just not true. Rumors are bullying. Gossip is bullying. Keeping someone out of a group is bullying. Teasing (and taking it too far, or teasing in a mean way) is bullying. Saying bad things about someone on your Facebook page is bullying, even if you think they’ll never see it (trust me, they’ll hear about it).
And, finally, talk to someone if you’re the victim of bullying. Go to an adult who can help you. You shouldn’t be keeping miserable and lonely and sad feelings to yourself.
Q: Please share an experience that deeply moved you since Hate List was published.
A: I was visiting some schools in a city about 2 hours away from where I live. I had a packed schedule, and barely had breathing room. But I received an email from a principal of a local alternative school in the area, asking if I could please squeeze in 20 or 30 minutes at their school while I was in town. She was so passionate about getting me there, I agreed to do it, even though it meant I was going to have to really fly to make my next school visit. I got to the school and found out that I was the first visiting author that the school had ever had. Ever! The students were so attentive and wonderful, and the teachers so appreciative that I would talk to them. After my visit, I received an email that the students had decided to create a student-led book club, and that their first club read was going to be Hate List.
Q: What advice do you have for middle school and high school students who have been bullied?
A: Go to your school counselor and ask for help. Bullying does tend to stop if an adult who knows what they’re doing confronts it head-on. If your counselor isn’t helping, keep talking. Talk to teachers, talk to administrators, talk to your parents. Eventually, someone will help you.
Q: In Hate List the lines blur for many of the characters. For example – Valerie and Nick are being bullied, but also are perceived as bullies. They are hateful and loving. We also might say that Valerie and Jessica are victims, perpetrators, and saviors. You did a phenomenal job of showing different sides to many of the characters. What overall message do you feel is important for the reader to take away from your portrayals?
A: That you are not only your reputation, so why should anyone else be only theirs? We are all human. We are all flawed. And we are all complex. It’s so easy to “hate” someone you don’t really know, based on something you’ve heard about them, or the first impression they gave, or whatever. Valerie’s main goal in Hate List is to “see what’s really there.” I’d like my readers to do that as well. See people for who they really are.
Q: As the mother of three children, what life lessons do you hope to impart to them? (They do not necessarily have to relate specifically to Hate List.)
A: Oh, so many! I want them to be caring people. I want them to see that their actions do matter in this world. And I want them to follow their dreams, whatever those dreams may be. I want them to know that they can accomplish anything they set their mind to. And I want them to always come home for Christmas, even if they live far away.
CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED – WINNER HAS BEEN ANNOUNCED AND AM WAITING FOR RESPONSE. THANKS TO EVERYONE WHO SENT IN COMMENTS AND POSTED THE LINKS!
Readers may find up-to-date information about Jennifer Brown and read her blog on her website: http://www.jenniferbrownya.com/
Enter to win an AUTOGRAPHED copy of Hate List by choosing any one of the following:
1. Leave a comment about how bullying has impacted your life, or the life of someone you know.
2. Explain why you would like a copy of this book.
3. Ideas you have to put an end to bullying.
4. General comments about this blog piece.
5. Add a link to this blog piece on your website, Twitter it, or post a link on your Facebook or MySpace page. (Please list it.)
A winner will be selected randomly and is open to individuals in the United States or Canada. Deadline is May 20, 2010