Addiction, sexuality, mental illness, abuse, xenophobia—teens are dealing with these issues and so much more, both in the microcosm of their school environment and in the larger world. But they don’t have to go through it alone. A recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal suggests that hard-hitting YA bestsellers are too real, too dark for teenagers. Books that tackle difficult subjects, however, can teach teens how to handle real-world problems, how to find the light in the darkness, and how to empathize with others. Hear 2019 debut YA authors Nikki Barthelmess (The Quiet You Carry, Flux), James Brandon (Ziggy, Stardust and Me, Putnam/Penguin), Sarah Carlson (All the Walls of Belfast, Turner), Deb Maroulis (Within and Without, Lakewater Press), Lizzy Mason (The Art of Losing, Soho Teen), Laura Sibson (The Art of Breaking Things, Viking), Erin Stewart (Scars Like Wings, Delacorte/Random House), Alex Villasante (The Grief Keeper, Putnam/Penguin) and C.H. Armstrong (Roam, Central Avenue Publishing) discuss how teens benefit from seeing these issues explored on the page, how librarians can use these books to help teens manage tough situations, and why the authors chose to tell these stories.
C.H. Armstrong -- ROAM is an issue-driven young adult novel that focuses on the silent epidemic that is teen homelessness in the United States. A recent study by the National Center on Family Homelessness estimated that approximately 2.5 million children—roughly one in every thirty children in the United States—are homeless. ROAM follows the journey of one homeless teen and her family as she struggles to navigate at new high school at the same time as the homeless community in suburban Minnesota.
Nikki Barthelmess – THE QUIET YOU CARRY deals with systemic familial abuse, sexual abuse, foster care, and PTSD. It follows 17-year-old Victoria, who, after she's kicked out of her toxic family, must contend with a chaotic foster home, dodge prying eyes at school, hang onto her college dreams, and somehow protect the stepsister she left behind.
James Brandon – ZIGGY, STARDUST AND ME is a Queer Historical YA set in St. Louis, 1973, months prior to the APA officially de-classifying homosexuality as a mental illness. Jonathan Collins is forced to face his "mental illness" through treatments and abuse when he falls in love with another boy. The novel shows a forgotten moment in LGBTQ+ history and how a mental illness is not easily cured; it’s silently passed from generation to generation, like a cancer, until it’s finally faced head-on.
Sarah J. Carlson – ALL THE WALLS OF BELFAST, follows two teens as they seek to understand their pasts and preserve their futures in post-Troubles Belfast, a Wisconsinite reunited with her long-lost father and brothers and a boy trying to escape an abusive home to pave his own way. It explores several fundamental themes including forging your identity and future apart from your family’s legacy, identifying your own core values and finding the courage to stay true to them, figuring out your own role in complex family situations, and meeting your first love. ALL THE WALLS OF BELFAST also explores the idea of intergenerational trauma, rising above the burden of the past, challenging sectarianism and the notion of “other” ingrained in us by adults in our lives, and forgiveness. Sarah’s experience as a school psychologist, particularly in the area of trauma, helped her in portraying resilience in the face of parental abuse and neglect, as well as helping one character grapple with a parent’s violent past.
Deb Maroulis - WITHIN AND WITHOUT deals with the fragility of a teen's self-esteem, explored through the issues of an eating disorder and date rape. Wren is bulimic and falls for a senior boy who doesn't listen to her when she changes her mind about having sex. In the aftermath, she blames herself for not saying no "enough," and her bulimia escalates until everything comes to a head.
Lizzy Mason - In THE ART OF LOSING, when 17-year-old Harley’s boyfriend drives drunk, an accident leaves her sister Audrey with no memory of what she did with him or how they betrayed her. While Harley struggles to forgive them, she reconnects with Rafael, an old friend who’s recently out of rehab, and who starts to show Harley a path forward guided by honesty, forgiveness, and redemption. Inspired by the author’s experience of going to rehab as a teen, THE ART OF LOSING is about is about making mistakes, accepting things you can't change, and figuring out when to forgive and when to walk away.
Laura Sibson - In THE ART OF BREAKING THINGS, Laura Sibson looks at how shame is built from silence in the aftermath of a sexual assault on a girl by a person close to her. In crafting the novel, she showcased a teen girl who is trying to manage on her own, who wants above all else to keep her younger sister safe – and who is failing on both counts. Drawing from her personal history, her counseling background, conversations with a professional in the field and articles on sexual trauma in families, Sibson worked to create a book that highlights the reality of living with sexual trauma while also offering the reader a strong story of hope and healing.
Erin Stewart – In SCARS LIKE WINGS, 16-year-old Ava returns to high school one year after a fire claimed her parents and left her severely disfigured. With her body and face now 60-percent scars, Ava avoids mirrors and other people until a friendship with a fellow survivor helps her reclaim some pieces of her past and find a new normal. Delving into issues of beauty, bullying, resilience and suicide, SCARS LIKE WINGS is ultimately a story of finding light even in the darkest moments and of choosing life—and love—despite the scars.
Alexandra Villasante - THE GRIEF KEEPER is the story of Marisol Morales and her little sister Gabi, who flee violence in their country to seek asylum in the U.S. When they are detained by immigration, Marisol must choose between immediate deportation or participation in an experimental study for a medical device that transfers grief from one person to another. Marisol meets Rey, the girl she is supposed to help heal, never expecting their shared grief to erupt into a powerful love. THE GRIEF KEEPER deals with issues of immigration, LGBTQ+ identity, family and inequality.
ALA Unit/Subunit: YALSA
Meeting Type: Program
Cost: Included with full conference registration.