November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Where the Girls Are: Recent Titles on Feminism, Girlhood, and Sexism | Adult Books 4 Teens

Social media has changed how Americans take a stand on important issues. While some might argue about the effectiveness of hashtag activism, the #GirlsLikeUs, #EffYourBeautyStandards, #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, and #EverydaySexism campaigns have certainly opened my eyes to contemporary feminist struggles. Because of this, I was excited to read Laura Bates’s Everyday Sexism, the updated nonfiction call to action that grew out of the author’s social media activism. In 2012, Bates created a website for women to share their experiences of sexism. Now the website has expanded to Twitter and Tumblr, and thousands of women and men from more than 25 countries have contributed. Modern teenagers need to have a conversation about the harassment and sexism encountered in this book—otherwise, how do teens know when they are being harassed? As Bates notes, schoolchildren aren’t learning about this in school.

It’s difficult for teens to speak up when they feel like no one is listening. Two memoirs, Diane Guerrero’s In the Country We Love: My Family Divided and Alex Cooper’s Saving Alex, focus on adolescents who struggle, survive, and eventually thrive. Guerrero is well known for her roles on Orange Is the New Black and Jane the Virgin, but when she was just 14, her parents were deported to Colombia and she was left in Boston alone. Now Guerrero is speaking out about immigration reform. In a May 2 interview with the Washington Post, she had this message for children of immigrants: “I want them to know that there is a lot of work to be done, and they have the power for change.” Librarians have a chance to hear Guerrero on June 26—she is the guest speaker at the American Library Assocation’s President’s Program in Orlando.

A supportive Gay-Straight Alliance group helped Cooper speak up and change legal history when she won the right to be a gay teen in Utah. At age15, she was shipped to a family in Utah, where her sexuality could be “fixed.” She was forced to wear a heavy backpack filled with rocks, stand against the wall for weeks, and act as a servant. Recently, several states have banned reparative/conversion therapy, and this school-friendly memoir could lead to more supporters of the #BornPerfect campaign. Cooper’s short and readable autobiography realistically describes her struggle between respecting her religion and being true to herself.

If Isabel Quintero’s Gabi, a Girl in Pieces is popular in your school (and, honestly, it should be), give Gabby Rivera’s Juliet Takes a Breath a try. It’s from a smaller publishing house and centers on a protagonist attempting to come out as gay to her close-knit Puerto Rican family. Juliet is inspired to be an active feminist by a book that she reads, and she receives a summer intern position with the author. “Crunchy” Portland isn’t the answer to her prayers, but Juliet returns home knowing more about herself.

Next up is a psychological thriller by British author Ruth Dugdall, a trained probation officer. Her stand-alone novel Nowhere Girl is written from the perspectives of four women—a Luxembourg teen who goes missing from a fair in Germany; her mother; a former probation officer who is drawn into the case; and Amina, a Muslim teen who is in the country illegally. There are obvious gender and immigration implications, and the European setting might intrigue some teens.

No introduction is necessary for the future blockbuster movie (Tim Burton is directing, so it’s an easy prediction) based on Ransom Riggs’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. It will be in theaters September 16, and libraries should add Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway to their read-alike displays. Teen readers may have already discovered McGuire—she also writes under the name Mira Grant and is the author of the “Newsflesh” and “Parasitology” trilogies. But there are no parasites or zombies in this new tale. The creepy novella is similar to Miss Peregrine in that it involves children, mostly girls, who are trying to return to the magical world that they entered once. But McGuire’s book is more mature; it’s a downright weird novel that touches on identity and gender issues.

FICTION

nowheregirlDUGDALL, Ruth. Nowhere Girl. 261p. (Cate Austin). Legend Pr. Feb. 2016. pap. $14.95. ISBN 9781910394632.

In this fourth installment of the series, 17-year-old Ellie Scheen goes missing after befriending a pair of teens at an annual fair in Luxembourg. Her family is naturally frantic—especially her mother, with whom Ellie has had a turbulent relationship. Through letters to her absent daughter, Bridget reveals that she feels guilty because she is bored with her life and misses being the war zone nurse she was before becoming a wife and mother. The novel follows several other characters, including Cate Austin, a family friend, and a young Muslim teen named Amina who has come to the country to try to make a better life. As with previous novels in the series, the award-winning British author uses her experiences as a former probation officer to weave together a suspenseful story using various perspectives. Current world issues, such as child trafficking and the challenges of being an undocumented immigrant, play a big part in the plot. Although Cate’s boyfriend is the lead detective trying to locate Ellie, it is Cate who uses her instincts and various clues to find the girl. VERDICT Hand this novel to teens who appreciate plot twists, for even after the orchestrator of the kidnapping is revealed, this cautionary tale is riveting until the last page.–Sherry J. Mills, Hazelwood East High School, St. Louis

EveryMCGUIRE, Seanan. Every Heart a Doorway. 176p. ebook available. Tor.com. Apr. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780765385505.

This new story from a veteran fantasy author offers writing that’s full of imagery and evocative emotions and helps build suspense from the very first sentence. Behind the titular doors lie alternate worlds, some magical, some dangerous, and some both. The children, mostly girls, who go through the doors become irrevocably changed, many of them becoming mature beyond their actual years. When they return to the real world, their families and friends no longer understand them. And some, like Nancy, want desperately to return to their alternate world, where they felt welcomed and loved. Eleanor West was once a young traveler to those worlds, and now she runs a home for these wayward children, helping them adjust to reality. Just as Nancy begins to make a place for herself, a puzzling and gruesome series of murders threaten the students and the home’s very existence. The characters are well drawn, and their feelings about their impossible situation are believable. The alienation they experience and their struggles to find a way back will appeal to teens. When the murderer is revealed, the motivation will be understood by characters and readers alike. VERDICT Though short (this tale is more novella than novel) this clever inside-out fantasy will intrigue fantasy fans and those who loved Ransom Riggs’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.–Gretchen Crowley, Alexandria City Public Libraries, VA

JulietredstarRIVERA, Gabby. Juliet Takes a Breath. 266p. Riverdale Avenue. Jan. 2016. pap. $16.99. ISBN 9781626012516.

Nineteen-year-old Juliet Palante writes a you-changed-my-life letter to her favorite feminist author and is granted a summer internship at the author’s home in Portland, OR. Leaving her loving Puerto Rican family in the Bronx is difficult, but Juliet also welcomes the chance to enter a new environment: her mother has been communicating with her through closed doors ever since Juliet told her that she is a lesbian and has a girlfriend. In Portland, Juliet discovers a new world—gay, artsy, “crunchy,” hippie types who welcome her with open arms and offer her marijuana. She falls in love, her heroes fall, her family supports her, and her friends save her. Juliet also discovers women of color writing science fiction, hot library paraprofessionals, and her own self-esteem. At the end of the summer, Juliet reflects, “I’m a messy, over-emotional, book nerd, weirdo, chubby brown human and I needed to learn how to love myself, even the shameful bits.” This humorous and heartbreaking summer coming-of-age tale is reminiscent of Isabel Quintero’s 2015 Morris Award winner Gabi, a Girl in Pieces. Teens will appreciate the integrated definitions of words such as polyamory and theodicy in the narrative. Even older teens will appreciate the discussions about microaggressions and white privilege. VERDICT After reading this book, teens will want to fight for social justice. A powerful coming-of-age novel that will resonate with most young people.–Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL

NONFICTION

everydayBATES, Laura. Everyday Sexism. 416p.  ebook available. St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne. Apr. 2016. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9781250067937; pap. $16.99. ISBN 9781250100184.

Collecting thousands of tales from women (and men) of abuse, catcalling, and sexism through social media, Bates has updated the 2015 British edition of this book to include more information about women in politics, on campus, and in the media. Each of the 12 chapters begins with two pages of eye-opening vital statistics, along with tweets from those who have experienced sexism. While some of the Briticisms may puzzle American teens, the global scope of the examples will inspire teens to speak up and change the world. A multitude of campaigns (It’s on Us, Know Your IX, #YesAllWomen, Ready To Run) and organizations (Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, Equality Now, National Organization for Men Against Sexism) are discussed throughout and are listed in the “Resources” section in the Appendix. Students can visit the Everyday Sexism Project’s website and follow it on Tumblr and Twitter. Pair with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists or any book from the Amelia Bloomer list. VERDICT A must-have for high school libraries to fill their social justice and feminism collections.–Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL

savingCOOPER, Alex  with Joanna Brooks. Saving Alex: When I Was Fifteen I Told My Mormon Parents I Was Gay, and That’s When My Nightmare Began. 248p. HarperOne. Mar. 2016. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9780062374608.

Raised in the Mormon Church, Cooper was always a rebellious teenager. With her Mormon friends, she snuck out of her parents’ house, smoked marijuana, and talked back. None of these actions caused much drama in her household, but when the high school sophomore admitted to her parents that the hickey on her neck was from a girl, their family life exploded. Told that she was going to live with her grandparents, Cooper instead was sent to a residential home in St. George, UT, where she was mentally and physically abused in order to “fix” her homosexuality. With the assistance of caring teachers and friends, Cooper legally escaped the respected Mormon family who were trying to “cure” her, and a Salt Lake City pro bono lawyer helped her win the right to live with her parents as an openly gay teenager. Cooper never tried to completely break with her parents; she makes it clear that she wants to be their daughter and to be honest about her identity. This memoir is sure to rile teens to action. Information about Gay-Straight Alliances, PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People), and student rights is integrated effectively into the narrative, and even reluctant readers will enjoy this memoir. VERDICT A moving, timely memoir perfect for teens who love autobiographies or LGBTQ books, or reluctant readers who need a short biography to fulfill a class assignment.–Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL

countryGUERRERO, Diane & Michelle Burford. In the Country We Love: My Family Divided. 272p. ebook available. photos. Holt. May. 2016. Tr $26. ISBN 9781627795272.

Teens may recognize Guerrero from Orange Is the New Black, where she plays Maritza (“If you want more pizza, vote for Maritza!”), or Jane the Virgin, where she plays the title character’s BFF Lina. In recent months, Guerrero has been speaking out about immigration reform, and this book explains why: when she was 14, she came home from school one day to find that her parents had been arrested; they were ultimately deported to Colombia. Guerrero, born in the United States, was more fortunate than most young people in this situation, in that her family had a strong contingent of friends who lived nearby and who took her in, allowing her to continue her schooling. But she describes how she never truly felt at home once her parents were gone: she tried to minimize the space she took up; she always asked permission, even to eat a snack; she did household chores whenever she could; and she spent her free time worrying about how to achieve financial independence. Guerrero hid her story from others for years but eventually realized it was time to start dealing with her past and sharing her experience, in the hopes of helping others in the same situation. Her acting career has given her the platform to do just that. VERDICT This touching memoir will resonate with teens who love acting as well as those who want to know more about of the lives of immigrants and refugees, or have experienced a similar situation to Guerrero’s.–Sarah Flowers, formerly with Santa Clara County Library, CA

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Sarah Hill About Sarah Hill

Sarah Hill is SLJ's Adult Books 4 Teens cocolumnist and an information services librarian at Lake Land College in Mattoon, IL.

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