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Author Megan Abbott
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A fearless debut novel about the restorative power of truth and love after the trauma of abuse.As sixteen-year-old Aidan Donovan’s fractured family disintegrates around him, he searches for solace in a few bumps of Adderall, his father’s wet bar, and the attentions of his local priest, Father Greg—the only adult who actually listens to him.When Christmas hits, Aidan’s world collapses in a crisis of trust when he recognizes the darkness of Father Greg’s affections. He turns to a crew of new friends to help make sense of his life: Josie, the girl he just might love; Sophie, who’s a little wild; and Mark, the charismatic swim team captain whose own secret agonies converge with Aidan’s.The Gospel of Winter maps the ways love can be used as a weapon against the innocent—but can also, in the right hands, restore hope and even faith. Brendan Kiely’s unflinching and courageous debut novel exposes the damage from the secrets we keep and proves that in truth, there is power. And real love.
Raw, heartbreaking, authentic, important! The Gospel of Winter is a critical novel of coping with one of the worst things that could happen to a young man—sexual abuse. In this case, a priest takes advantage of a vulnerable young adult, Aiden. Cover: Brilliantly designed. The jacket is translucent with the silhouette of a boy underneath. This symbolizes the hidden layers of Aiden, his shadowed self, and secrets. The letters in the word “Gospel” are broken symbolizing how the “gospel” Aiden learns from the priest is indeed broken, filled with lies and holes. It’s brilliant.General comments:I cried. I paced. I asked the question, “Why?” And I blessed Brendan Kiely for having the courage to write such an important book!This is a novel that will let others who have gone through sexual abuse know that they’re not alone, that what they’ve experienced and how they’ve coped is normal, but that ultimately it’s unhealthy and painful to keep the trauma to oneself.The story: (contains some minor spoilers, proceed with caution.)Aiden’s father has left his mother and him for Europe and another woman. The novel starts out with Aiden co-hosting his mother’s annual Christmas party. He is surrounded by overbearing, “keep up with the Jones” type adults, and lots and lots of alcohol. Aiden crushes Adderall and snorts it. He drinks. All of this is his way of coping with the sexual abuse.As the story goes on, Aiden develops some positive relationships with three other young adults. They’re able to talk about “real” stuff and take their “masks” off. Aiden sees many of the people around him as fake, always looking for the next deal and trying to out do their neighbors, their friends with bigger and better parties. Personally, I thought this was an accurate portrayal of what it’s like in some East Coast suburbs. I’ve met people like this, and though I find it shocking, it seemed very authentic. Many parents go off and leave their children to be raised by nannies. It’s not a Midwest “thing” but it’s a heck of a lot more common on the East Coast. What crushes me is the lack of respect for another person. Aiden’s “nanny” Elena is Hispanic, and he loves her. But there is definitely “class” and race separation. When will we live in a society that sees beyond skin color? Aiden is more of a second son to Elena. Unfortunately, Elena doesn’t do what it takes to protect Aiden. She too, fails him.Readers might not like the choices Aiden makes or the adults around him. There are choices that many regret and are ashamed of. BUT THIS IS LIFE! Maybe you’ll get upset with Aiden, maybe you’ll cry for Aiden, maybe you’ll be frustrated with what happens and how the adults cope, BUT GET REAL! Because this is real! The drug use, the denial, the fear, the self-loathing, the shame, the guilt. Brendan Kiely gives readers an opportunity to walk in a male young adult’s shoes who has faced horrible abuse. This isn’t a “story” where we get to decide how Aiden shoulda reacted. Brendan Kiely researched this novel and spent six years writing it in order to give people a gift. A gift that will allow young adults going through abuse a window into what can happen if you don’t tell and don’t cope, especially when the abusing adult puts the fear of G-d in you, in this case, literally. The power of friendship is also explored in this novel. Aiden fails one of his best friends Mark. His failure is wrapped up in Aiden’s lies and his inability to cope with abuse. Aiden is sixteen! Sixteen-year-olds disappoint friends. They make bad choices. HECK, adults do it all the time! So many adults failed Aiden. Our hearts can break for him, for Mark, but ultimately we need to realize that neither had the love or support or the guidance to get out of this mess.Except for a lovely friend named Josie. EVERYONE should have a good friend like Josie. I want to commend Brendan for writing one of the most important books on sexual abuse, and for tackling an even more taboo topic, sexual abuse involving a boy! The Gospel of Winter is a brilliantly written, tough, heartbreaking must read!
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/
Crissa-Jean Chappell with NARC
What could happen if you’re caught by the police with illegal drugs? Criss-Jean Chappell discovered that many young adults are forced to turn NARC, many more than anyone could imagine, or face severe consequences, including jail time. Here’s my review as posted on GOODREADS – NARC by Crissa-Jean Chappell is a powerful, eye-opening novel about a boy named Aaron who gets himself into some serious trouble. I was deeply impressed with how Chappell brought out Aaron’s voice, making him a sympathetic, troubled young man who is deeply loyal to family, protective of friends, and caught in the middle of his poor choices from the past and his current desire to make changes in his life. He takes some stupid risks and gets mixed up in some pretty messy things, all involving drugs. This is a cautionary tale – well written, strong voice, and fascinating supporting characters.
I definitely recommend NARC. This book should be in every HS.
Here’s your chance to win a copy of NARC through GOODREADS –
AND – ONE LUCKY WINNER will receive a copy from ME when the book debuts – Just post a comment below. Twitter followers – 1 extra entry. Facebook followers – 1 extra entry, Tweet or post on Facebook – each counts as an extra entry. Follow Crissa-Jean on Twitter @CrissaChappell – 1 extra entry – GIVEAWAY ENDS: SUNDAY, JUNE 29, 8PM CST, WINNER CHOSEN – QU HARRISON
1. NARC is a powerful novel about perceptions – people aren’t who they seem on the outside. This message goes with the concept of “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” How do you apply this to the characters in NARC?
When the story opens, Aaron is in his senior year at Palm Hammock. In his mind, everybody at school wears a mask. Sometimes it feels like you’re given an assigned role (like players in a chess game). He dreams about flipping the board and starting over with a new set of rules.
Aaron is “human wallpaper.” He’s on the outside, looking in. Then he meets Morgan, the so-called popular girl with the Cleopatra hair. As they grow closer, he learns that things aren’t so easy for her, either. At lunch, she would rather sit under a tree with a book than face the stares and whispers in the cafeteria. He soon finds out why.
2. Often in life, young adults have a tough time identifying their strengths. But once a person focuses on them, they can guide a person in making a difference in this world. Looking at Aaron, take one or two of his strengths. What would you wish for him to do with them?
Although he wouldn’t call himself strong, Aaron makes a lot of difficult decisions. He’s not an adult yet, but he’s forced into a position that requires him to act like one. At last, someone is taking him seriously. I believe that young adults are often pushed off to the side. They feel like their thoughts and opinions don’t matter. All they want is for us to listen. Aaron needs to find his voice. That’s where he discovers his inner strength.
3. On the flip side, many people get locked in their weaknesses. What are Aaron’s weaknesses and what can he do to start moving away from using them as a crutch to fail?
He desperately wants to be liked. Throughout the book, he uses magic tricks to get attention. In a way, Aaron feels like he has to pretend (or be fake) in order for people to like him. Sometimes it takes the shape of lies. Or hiding your true feelings, all because you’re afraid of being judged. The kid who’s cracking jokes in the back row? He might be hurting on the inside, but never shows it.
Pretending is like battle armor in high school.
4. NARC definitely makes the reader think. How has this story impacted you, changed you?
In my research, I discovered that it’s not as unusual as you might think—young people (including teens) who put their lives in danger to work as police informants. I was drawn to the idea of a seventeen-year-old doing an adult’s job. And I was curious about the ways it would change his view of the world.
5. You said that you see yourself as a little bit of an “outsider” or an observer. What do you mean and why has it made you a better writer?
Much like Aaron, I floated like a ghost through school (and that was okay with me). Sometimes I wanted to be invisible. That would be my super power. When you’re quiet and spend a lot of time alone, you learn to pay attention.
As a storyteller, you must be an observer of human behavior. That’s where you find the good stuff—the way people speak, the funny gestures they make. I also love to draw. When I’m working on a book, I see it as “drawing with words.” I try to create little portraits of things around me. It might be the smell of low tide at Biscayne Bay. Or a boy speeding past me on a skateboard. He’s got his headphones on and he knows exactly where he’s going. I’ll make up what happens next.
DON’T MISS THESE VIDEOS: And guess what? Crissa-Jean made them. Here’s what she said: “Yes, I made the videos. (I was a film major in college and I also taught film back in Miami.) One of my former students, Marlon Morina, designed the animated trailer for NARC. In fact, I’m working on a new book about…film school kids!
NARC book trailer from crissachappell on Vimeo.
NARC: seven secrets from crissachappell on Vimeo.
literary outlaws from crissachappell on Vimeo.
Don't Park Here!
STAY SAFE ON THE ROAD
Texting, putting on make-up, making phone calls on your cell, drinking and driving, using drugs and driving, reaching for a snack… These are just a few things that lead to dangerous, inattentive driving, which could lead to serious accidents on the road – even death. BE SAFE! Even if you can’t participate in this contest, make a personal pledge to drive carefully. If you need to make a call, pull over. Don’t get into anyone’s vehicle if s/he is drunk. Eat before you get on the road – avoid eating in your car. And please, ALWAYS WEAR YOUR SEATBELT!
Right after graduation last year, a young man we knew who had attended our son’s high school got into a car with a drunk driver. The driver lost control and wrapped the car around a tree. The boy we were acquainted with died. Though we did not know this boy well, my heart broke for his family. Such a waste of precious life. YOU ARE PRECIOUS! Please make good choices. There are people who care – even if you don’t think so. Trust me, I don’t know you, but I care. When I hear about the loss of a teen, it hits me hard.
It’s always easy to think that it won’t be you. Don’t test fate. Be safe, be smart , live!
Here’s a grizzly YouTube video but it sure does get the point across! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EmMNcOWhjWM
If you live in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Georgia, Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado, South Dakota, North Dakota, Utah, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, Oregon, and Washington then this is a contest for you. No purchase necessary. It is sponsored through American Family Insurance. I happen to know the person who designed the website, so that is how I found out about the contest. He posted it to his Facebook account. I am not, nor is anyone in my family insured with American Family so this is not an endorsement for their insurance. I like the concept of promoting safe driving among teenagers. So, consider taking the pledge!
A Heroin User
My downward spiral started when I was fourteen. I had been in and out of ten different school settings since 3rd grade for being oppositional with teachers, not doing the work, and distracting other students from learning. Having ADHD didn’t help. What led up to my downward spiral was sixteen months of hell at a place that was supposed to be a therapeutic boarding school (a school for troubled teens). I was thirteen and placed in a group of fifteen to eighteen year olds. I was the scapegoat and was mentally abused constantly. I also got the x@##@!! kicked out of me and was physically punished for things I often did not do. Don’t get me wrong, I was not an angel.
I graduated from the boarding school program and came home around the time I turned fifteen. I smoked pot a week after I got home. It was the best stress reliever ever and that was when I fell in love with “Mary Jane.” (Mary Jane is another name for pot.) I smoked before school, during school, after school, and before I would go to sleep. I would wake up at night, take a piss, and take a hit to fall back to sleep.
I used pot to escape from my awful memories of boarding school. I started hanging out with a different group of kids and began using a lot of LSD to see how far from earth I could get, if that makes sense. I liked seeing the parallel universe.
When I was almost sixteen I was put on juvenile probation for resisting arrest. I was eating valium like candy and drinking way too much. I don’t remember much besides walking down icy stairs and two cops falling on top of me. Because I was on probation I had to go for drug tests. (Failing a test meant finishing off my sentence.) I started using oxycontin because I felt the need to escape from myself. Oxy doesn’t stay in the system as long as pot, so I got away with passing a few drugs tests. But not for too long. I spent two weeks in juvenille detention. I kept having bad dreams about my boarding school experience; it still haunts me today. Oxy soon turned into sticking a needle in my arm three times a day or more. I would shoot up oxy, morphine, and heroin every day. I not only became addicted to opiates, but addicted to the needle. I loved the thrill of the process of getting high. It was a sad existence. Heroin was my new escape; it was like the warmest blanket on the coldest day….
I started missing school to get heroin. Everything in my life revolved around it. My group of friends eventually were only opiate users. I tried to hide my problem from everyone else because I was so embarrassed. I sold drugs to support my habit and soon realized I was a junkie.
I’m writing this dressed in an orange jumpsuit, using a flexible pen while sitting on a three inch thick mat that I would not even call a mattress. It has a built-in pillow.
Kids, I am now facing 16 1/2 years for selling drugs just to support my habit. I’ll leave you with these words to wrap your mind around. Because of my drug use I lost relationships with my family to the point where there were none. I was overdosing and nearly dying two times a month. I would get so dope-sick I could not get out of bed. I would lie all the time to cover up my addiction. I thank my Mom for saving me. She turned a needle in to my Probation Officer the day before my eighteenth birthday (early June, 2009). If she didn’t I don’t think I would even be writing this, as a matter of fact I’m sure of it.
Note from Liza Wiemer: I have changed Ben’s name. I have known Ben since he was three years old. He’s been more fortunate than most kids in this situation. He has loving parents who have done everything they could think of (and then some) to help him. The mom is one of the strongest, most courageous, most incredible human beings I know. Most people would think that Ben came from a messed up family – but he didn’t. He made poor choice, after poor choice, after poor choice despite hundreds of opportunities from loving adults (numerous professionals) who wanted to help him. Ben has many amazing qualities, is very likable, and kind when he’s not on drugs. He is still so young. Can a person receive a 101 chances, 102, 103? We hope so. Your comments on Ben’s honest and heartfelt perspective would be deeply appreciated – encouragement too. So, please take a few minutes and let him know what you think.
No, I’m not shy. Yes, I actually stood on the street and asked strangers to share their best advice for young adults. Thanks San Francisco! Note: The photo on the left is of actor Wylie Herman in front of Alamo Square. The photo on the right was taken at a bus stop on Powell Street.
“I took an alternate route after high school. I chose to skip college to pursue my acting. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, because it’s risky. But it did work for me. I don’t have any regrets, not at all. But there was a time when all my friends were in college doing their thing. There was always that sense, well, should I be in college? But, I was doing what I love to do – so why not continue doing it? So I did.”
“My advice is to follow your heart, follow your dreams. Do something artistic. Most people have some kind of artistic inclination, so follow it as far as you can.”
In addition to acting in films, TV, and theater, Wylie Herman gives movie tours of San Francisco. Click on this site for further information. http://www.sanfranciscomovietours.com/
“Don’t get into things before you’re ready to handle them or because of peer pressure, especially sex or drugs. You should be in control of your decisions, so ask yourself if you’re ready for the consequences.” Richard, 39
If you’re absolutely sure you want to do something, then do it. If you have any doubts, don’t do it. Obviously, if you don’t want to do something, don’t do it.” James, age 42
“Love is not what you get, but what you give.” James, age 42
“Life is far too short for fear and all that stuff that might hold you back ’cause you feel you don’t know what you’re doing. Guess what, not too many people know what they’re doing when they pursue their dreams. Just do it. I should have been afraid to move to San Francisco from the other coast. There was nothing rational or practical about it. My heart and soul were telling me it was the right thing to do. It was the little voice inside saying forget the rational and just go for it. It turned out to be the best thing I have ever done. In the end, I met the love of my life and have been very successful.” James, age 42
“Listen to music that speaks to you. But know that what you listen to says a lot about you. So, my recommendation is to listen to music that inspires you in good ways and doesn’t promote all the negative stuff in life.” Anonymous
“This past weekend I had some friends over for a party. One of my friends was a regular user of GHB (Date Rape Drug) and he overdosed and died. He was 34. I didn’t even know that he had slipped it into his drink. The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was meet his mother and sister at the coroner’s. He had been a long time user of drugs. You think that it will never happen to you. But it can, it very well can. My best advice is don’t start using drugs, because you don’t know if you’ll end up in my friend’s shoes. Jimmy, age 39
“My advice: If there is something you really want to do in life, don’t let someone dissuade you from doing it. I really wanted to move to San Francisco from England. My mother was very unhappy about the choice and tried to get me to change my mind. I am certain she acted that way out of love and concern. I glad I didn’t let her pressure dissuade me from moving here. That was eight years ago.” Josie, age 32
“My father said, ‘The world is run by the people who show up!’ I think that was great advice.” Jay, age 30
“My parents divorced and I lived in Canada with my mom. I didn’t care about school and hung out with the wrong crowd. My mother sent me to live with my father in San Francisco – and I continued with the same behavior. I found the same types of kids here. What did I learn from this experience? Avoid peer pressure by following what you feel is the right thing to do. I got caught up in the peer pressure and things didn’t change for me until after high school. My life would have been better and much easier if I just listened to what I thought was right, instead of following the crowd.” Brendon (City Rent-a-Car), age 27
“I didn’t get along with my parents when I was growing up. Actually, I hated them and thought they were completely full of it. They valued education and I could have cared less. Plus, I struggled with ADD. My parents never lowered their expectations of me. They wanted me to go to college and pushed me to understand that an education brings value to your life. I ended up going to college, getting a degree in Political Science, and now I work on environmental issues. My mother is a independent woman. She once told me that it is important for me know who I am. She also said do for yourself first, but don’t forget to do for others too. I think my mom’s a wise woman. The greatest lesson I learned was that parents often know best. Looking back, I am so grateful that they wanted me to get an education, that they never stopped believing in me. They were right, going to college turned out to be a great thing for me.” Kimberly, age 28
“If you have a problem in life, don’t just go to your peers for advice. Have an open mind. Don’t get locked into one opinion that you can’t hear what others have to say. Get many different opinions and perspectives before you make up your mind. Seek adults you can trust, people you respect – perhaps teachers, clergy, family friends, or family members. Once you’ve heard these different opinions, you are better equipped to make a sound decision. Remember, the best decision may not be the one you might have wanted to hear.” Harold, age 40