We’ll be back next week to our regular programming. For now, we’ll be hitting the books, reading, and relaxing as the long holiday weekend winds down.
We can all agree: libraries are magical.
They’re places of knowledge. Of enjoyment. Of growth. The library is a welcoming, encouraging environment.
We can all also agree to this: not everyone has a library.
A fellow Book Rioter shared a link a couple of weeks ago about a small town in rural, impoverished California which has no library — the students in the local schools, especially, were missing out on reading opportunities because they lack the resources and access to them. It’s a clear case of “free ebooks” not solving the underlying problem plaguing many who are part of the lower class. If you don’t have the tools, the ereaders, the internet, and you don’t have a physical library, then you have nothing to work with.
The longer I thought about this situation, the more I realized that sharing the call for books for this library felt vital. More than that, I wanted to put out the call and ask if you, STACKED readers, would take up the charge in helping publicize this call for books, as well as help stock this library so when students arrive back at school in the fall, they’re overwhelmed with choice?
I live in a town of 1200 people in the Northern Sierra Nevada –where it meets the Cascade Range near Mt. Lassen National Park and about two hours drive northwest of Reno, NV. Two hundred of that population is students. Over the years as the population dwindled after mines closed, then mills–nothing except tourism and retirement have emerged as ‘industries.’ Many businesses have closed down and with it many things we take for granted—like libraries.
The local junior/senior high school has not been able to purchase new books since the 90s. Some of the “check outs” for old books are in the 1980s. There are no books by people of color in the library. Hardly any books by women are in the few book cases except your standard Austen and Lee. It’s an uninviting place. There hasn’t been a librarian for nearly a decade. And volunteers weren’t allowed. The last eight years students couldn’t even check out books.
I’ve lived here 13 years. I’ve watched kids succumb to despair. Our suicide and alcohol abuse is rampant as it is in many small rural communities. 75% of our county is beautiful national forest. 44% of jobs are government jobs—mostly forest service. There used to be mills but they closed down in the 90s. So much of that other 56% is underemployed and unemployed. It’s a beautiful place to live but it’s also a scary place for the mind to atrophy. We have a median income of under 30K. At the local elementary school 2/3 of students qualify for free lunch. Getting the picture?
Things though, as she notes, are changing. This will be the first year that the school will have a library again. It’s actually one library that will serve two separate schools: Greenville Junior/Senior High School and Indian Valley Academy. Both schools have principals that are supportive of bringing the library up to date, but they lack a budget to bring it up to the 21st center.
More from Margaret’s post:
We need racially diverse books. We need graphic novels. We need women’s studies. We need science. We need series. We need film. We need comics. We need music. We need biographies of important people. Looking for Young Adult. Classics. We want zines! Contemporary. Poetry. Everything that would make a difference in a young person’s life. Writers send us YOUR BOOK. We have many non-readers who we’d love to turn on to reading. We need a way to take this tiny area and bring it into the 21st century. We have a whole bunch of kids who don’t like to read because all they’ve ever been given is things that are either dull , dated, or dumbed down.
The students who are excelling are doing so because they have supportive parents at home and access to books and tablets elsewhere. But most students are without.
What Margaret would like is for people to send her Just One Book. By donating a single book to the library, you’ll help build it from the ground up. All of the information for where to send books is available here, at the bottom of her initial post.
I reached out to ask whether there was a wish list or anything, and indeed, teachers at the schools helped build a wish list of titles for the library collection. You can access the entire list here.
If you can do so, I hope you’re willing to send a book or two to this powerful cause. But if sending a book or choosing a title seems like it might be too much work, I am happy to collect money via Paypal, the same way I did with the #1000BlackGirlBooks project, to send the library a huge collection of titles. I’ll mine booklists put together by professionals to send inclusive titles, to send feminist titles, to send great comics, and more. Since collection development and teen lit are my specialties, I feel more than capable of ensuring that a lot of really great, exciting, interesting stuff gets sent that way.
I will collect financial donations through Paypal through July 10. If you’d like to help, you can send your donation to my email address [which will be deleted from this post on July 10]: kellybjensen /*/at\*\ gmail.com. Remove the fancy slashes and dots.
We were able to raise $3000 for #1000BlackGirlBooks together, and we were able to send 1000 copies of Some Girls Are to Charleston, South Carolina last summer. Can we rally together and make this small library something spectacular?
Even if you don’t donate cash, sending them, as Margaret notes, “Just One Book,” will help them get there. If you can’t do either, share this post and/or Margarets so the word gets spread.
It’s heartbreaking to hear stories like this. But it is incredible to see motivated people wanting to do best for their communities and the kids in it. Here’s a chance for us as book lovers to lend a hand.
It’s been noted before, but it’s becoming more and more obvious that book covers with something shattering or exploding have become legion. You see them in YA as much as you see them in adult fiction — and maybe most interesting to me is that these book covers tend to favor “women’s fiction” in the adult category.
Shattering/exploding roses are a thing. The backstory here is wonderfully interesting; to make these images, roses are dipped in liquid nitrogen, which freezes them immediately, then slammed against glass.
Let’s take a look at the recent growth of “things exploding” on book covers. Since the YA books and the adult books look like they would have some solid crossover appeal among them, this could make a really striking (heh) display at the library, don’t you think?
All descriptions are from WorldCat. If you can think of other exploding covers that have hit shelves in the last couple of years or that will be coming soon, let me know in the comments!
And I Darken by Kiersten White (June 28): In this first book in a trilogy a girl child is born to Vlad Dracula, in Transylvania, in 1435–at first rejected by her father and always ignored by her mother, she will grow up to be Lada Dragwlya, a vicious and brutal princess, destined to rule and destroy her enemies.
Before We Met by Lucie Whitehouse: When her husband disappears during a business trip to the U.S., Hannah, who believes she has married the perfect man, begins to have doubts when his co-workers tell a different story, prompting her to dig into his life, which unexpectedly leads her to a place of violence and fear.
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty: A murder … a tragic accident … or just parents behaving badly? What’s indisputable is that someone is dead. But who did what? Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads: Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter isin the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?). Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay. New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.
Black City by Elizabeth Richards: Ash, a sixteen-year-old twin-blood who sells his addictive venom, “Haze,” to support his dying mother, and Natalie, the daughter of a diplomat, discover their mysterious–and forbidden–connection in the Black City, where humans and Darklings struggle to rebuild after a brutal war.
Hold Me Like A Breath by Tiffany Schmidt: Penelope Landlow has grown up with the knowledge that almost anything can be bought or sold — including body parts. She’s the daughter of one of the three crime families that control the black market for organ transplants. Penelope’s surrounded by all the suffocating privilege and protection her family can provide, but they can’t protect her from the autoimmune disorder that causes her to bruise so easily. Penny is considered too “delicate” to handle the family business, or even to step foot outside their estate. All Penelope has ever wanted is independence — until she’s suddenly thrust into the dangerous world all alone, forced to stay one step ahead of her family’s enemies. As she struggles to survive the power plays of rival crime families, she learns dreams come with casualties, betrayal hurts worse than bruises, and there’s nothing she won’t risk for the people she loves.
Break Me Like A Promise by Tiffany Schmidt (June 7): When new legislation threatens to destroy her family’s operations in the black-market organ trade, Maggie finds herself falling in love with Alex, a computer whiz who makes a shocking revelation.
Perfect Ruin/Burning Kingdoms/Broken Crowns by Lauren DeStefano (description for first book): Sixteen-year-old Morgan Stockhour lives in Internment, a floating city utopia. But when a murder occurs, everything she knows starts to unravel.
Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel: Told in separate voices, Lena and Aubrey, each hiding her own secrets, set off in search of the truth about Charlie, including if he is really dead, after meeting at his funeral and learning that he was dating both of them.
The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty: Imagine that your husband wrote you a letter, to be opened after his death. Imagine, too, that the letter contains his deepest, darkest secret, something with the potential to destroy not just the life you built together, but the lives of others as well. Imagine, then, that you stumble across that letter while your husband is still very much alive. Cecilia Fitzpatrick has achieved it all; she is an incredibly successful businesswoman, a pillar of her small community, and a devoted wife and mother. Her life is as orderly and spotless as her home. But that letter is about to change everything, and not just for her: Rachel and Tess barely know Cecilia or each other, but they too are about to feel the earth-shattering repercussions of her husband’s secret.
Discovering a tattered letter that says she is to open it only in the event of her husband’s death, Cecelia, a successful family woman, is unable to resist reading the letter and discovers a secret that shatters her life and the lives of two other women.
It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover (August 2): No description yet!
Perfect by Rachel Joyce: In the aftermath of a life-shattering accident in the English countryside in 1972, twelve-year-old Byron Hemming struggles with events that his mother does not seem to remember and embarks on a journey to discover what really did or did not happen.
The Way I Used To Be by Amber Smith (March 22): After fourteen-year-old Eden is raped by her brother’s best friend, she knows she’ll never be the way she used to be.
This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp: Minutes after the principal of Opportunity High School in Alabama finishes her speech welcoming the student body to a new semester, they discover that the auditorium doors will not open and someone starts shooting as four teens, each with a personal reason to fear the shooter, tell the tale from separate perspectives.
In a tight group of librarian/blogger colleagues I keep, a really interesting comment popped up that I can’t stop thinking about. The librarian had been informed that during a presentation she would be giving, it was requested she include “clean reads,” since the community the person asking served was quite conservative and even kissing in a YA would cause a problem.
One look at the top 10 most challenged books in any given year will show an interesting trend: books tend to be challenged for something relating to sexuality. Sure, religion is another big reason but take a look at the reasons behind the top ten for children/YAs (list via the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom):
1) The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence. Additional reasons: “depictions of bullying”
2) Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
Reasons: gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint. Additional reasons: “politically, racially, and socially offensive,” “graphic depictions”
3) And Tango Makes Three, Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
Reasons: Anti-family, homosexuality, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “promotes the homosexual agenda”
4) The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “contains controversial issues”
5) It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
Reasons: Nudity, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group. Additional reasons: “alleges it child pornography”
6) Saga, by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Reasons: Anti-Family, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
7) The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited to age group, violence
8) The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “date rape and masturbation”
9) A Stolen Life, Jaycee Dugard
Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group
10) Drama, by Raina Telgemeier
Reasons: sexually explicit
Emphasis marked above are mine, and they’re worth looking at. Of the ten books here, 12 of the reasons for a book to be challenged involve something relating to sex or sexuality and only 2 are related to violence. There are, of course, citations for offensive language, for drug/alcohol use, and religious offense, as well as the ever-present and completely vague “unsuited for age group,” but stop a second and look at the numbers again.
Twelve times books were cited as being too sexually-forward and only two times were the same books cited as being too violent. I didn’t include the “depictions of bullying” under violence, since that is a vague and undefined explanation.
I’m a big believer in letting teenagers read what they want to when they’re ready to. I’m also a firm believer that honesty, especially as it’s related to depictions of sexuality as it fits into a story, is important; if a scene shouldn’t be “fade to black,” then it shouldn’t be. Teens who are not ready for that will either put the book down or skim passages where they’re made to feel uncomfortable.
The reverse, of course, is important, too: there should be books that don’t feature sexuality — even in the light sense of hugs or touching or kissing — since many teens don’t want that in their books, and there are ways to tell stories where these are not important or vital to a character or his/her journey.
In every library I worked, I made sure to keep lists of books that were for readers who didn’t want something explicit or even something that could potentially “make them blush.” I’m against the phrase “clean reads,” since it suggests that books featuring kisses or touching or sex of any sort — discussions of a character’s sexual identity included — and I found the idea of “Green Light Reads” to be a fair compromise for describing these books. But the longer I think about the terminology, the more I wonder the implications of whatever language we use. “Clean reads” and “books that doesn’t make you blush” convey that the books don’t have sexual under or over tones to them. But those same phrases and descriptions make no mention of violence.
Violence isn’t uncommon in YA, especially after the spate of dystopian novels in the past few years, but it’s something that is, at least in my own reading experience, far less common to see in YA. It’s hard to think that’s because violence is less often a component of adolescence. Except, we live in a world where this is the reality:
— Everytown (@Everytown) February 12, 2016
It’s hard to wrestle with the divergence in what it is that makes teen sexuality so challenging to think about and yet, we hardly blink at the idea of violence. We need books that “don’t make us blush,” yet we don’t put out the same type of rallying cry nor do we have the same sort of patronizing language used against books which are violent.
I do not believe books encourage teenagers to act in any way, but rather, I believe they’re safe spaces in which teens can grapple with big ideas and topics that they may not find elsewhere. But, it’s hard not to look at the way we label books, at the way we challenge topics, and wonder what it says about us as a bigger, broader culture and what implications those things have on the way our world continues to operate.
Why aren’t we more concerned about violence than we are sex?
I’m not sure I have any answers here, nor do I think I have anything powerful or moving to say. Rather, this is something I continue grappling with, especially when it comes to thinking about how we talk about books, how we share books, and how we can ensure teenagers have access to and permission to books meant to give them a place to learn, to grow, to think, and to change.
After I scheduled this post, an article popped up worth including here: in Virginia, they’re considering the option of allowing parents to block their child’s reading of anything sexual in the classroom.
But we do not see the same being begged for in terms of violence.
What is it that makes us so afraid of sex?
Because here’s the thing: I’d rather a teenager enjoy their body for what it was made to do in safe, healthy ways if they like far more than I’d like a teen to take away that same physical opportunity from anyone else with man-made weapons.
We’re taking a short break on STACKED to meet some deadlines, to sink into some reading for reading’s sake, as well as finish up organizing and arranging our site post-redesign. You can check out the categories and organizational system we’ve been working on when you pop onto our main site page. Drop down menus should be useful and intuitive.
We will be back to our regular scheduled posting on American Thanksgiving.
Here’s to some great reading in the meantime!