Monthly Archives: February 2017

#ownvoices trans stories

Because I feel one of the best weapons we have against discrimination is empathy, I try to share books with the teens in my community that tell a variety of stories about characters with different backgrounds and experiences. I want my teens to see themselves in books, but I also want them to see Muslims and Jews (who are few and far between in this city), to see refugees and immigrants and people of all races, genders, and orientations.

I will never understand the bathroom bills being proposed in several states, because I cannot fathom the logic behind blatant discrimination and transphobia. There is zero evidence that allowing trans people to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity has led to assault against cisgendered people. Far more often, trans people are harassed simply for trying to pee. Moreover, if a man (and I use the example of a man, but remember that boys and men are victims of sexual assault, too) wants to assault a woman in a public restroom, no bathroom bill is going to stop him from doing so. He’s already breaking the law and violating another human being. He’s not going to refrain from doing what he wants, what he feels entitled to do, simply because of a bathroom bill.

But I digress. My heart and thoughts have been with my trans friends especially this week, and so this list is dedicated to them. I have mixed feelings about the language used in some of these summaries (not everyone in the trans community is comfortable with phrases like “a boy born in a girl’s body”), but I’ve taken them all directly from If you have recommendations to add to this list, please share them in the comments!

Redefining Realness.Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More by Janet Mock

In her profound and courageous New York Times bestseller, Janet Mock establishes herself as a resounding and inspirational voice for the transgender community — and anyone fighting to define themselves on their own terms.

With unflinching honesty and moving prose, Janet Mock relays her experiences of growing up young, multiracial, poor, and trans in America, offering readers accessible language while imparting vital insight about the unique challenges and vulnerabilities of a marginalized and misunderstood population. Though undoubtedly an account of one woman’s quest for self at all costs, Redefining Realness is a powerful vision of possibility and self-realization, pushing us all toward greater acceptance of one another — and of ourselves — showing as never before how to be unapologetic and real.

Rethinking Normal.Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition by Katie Rain Hill

Katie Rain Hill realized very young that a serious mistake had been made; she was a girl who had been born in the body of a boy. Suffocating under her peers’ bullying and the mounting pressure to be “normal,” Katie tried to take her life at the age of eight years old. After several other failed attempts, she finally understood that “Katie” — the girl trapped within her — was determined to live.

In this first-person account, Katie reflects on her pain-filled childhood and the events leading up to the life-changing decision to undergo gender reassignment as a teenager. She reveals the unique challenges she faced while unlearning how to be a boy and shares what it was like to navigate the dating world — and experience heartbreak for the first time — in a body that matched her gender identity.

Told in an unwaveringly honest voice, Rethinking Normal is a coming-of-age story about transcending physical appearances and redefining the parameters of “normalcy” to embody one’s true self.

If I Was Your Girl.If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school. Like anyone else, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret, and she’s determined not to get too close to anyone.

But when she meets sweet, easygoing Grant, Amanda can’t help but start to let him into her life. As they spend more time together, she realizes just how much she is losing by guarding her heart. She finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself, including her past. But Amanda’s terrified that once she tells him the truth, he won’t be able to see past it.

Because the secret that Amanda’s been keeping? It’s that at her old school, she used to be Andrew. Will the truth cost Amanda her new life, and her new love?

Some Assembly Required.Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen by Arin Andrews

In this memoir, seventeen-year-old Arin Andrews details the journey that led him to make the life-transforming decision to undergo gender reassignment as a high school junior. In his captivatingly witty, honest voice, Arin reveals the challenges he faced as a boy in a girl’s body, the humiliation and anger he felt after getting kicked out of his private school, and all the changes — both mental and physical — he experienced once his transition began.

Some Assembly Required is a true coming-of-age story about knocking down obstacles and embracing family, friendship, and first love. But more than that, it is a reminder that self-acceptance does not come ready-made with a manual and spare parts. Rather, some assembly is always required.

Being Jazz.Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen by Jazz Jennings

Jazz Jennings is one of the youngest and most prominent voices in the national discussion about gender identity. At the age of five, Jazz transitioned to life as a girl, with the support of her parents. A year later, her parents allowed her to share her incredible journey in her first Barbara Walters interview, aired at a time when the public was much less knowledgeable or accepting of the transgender community. This groundbreaking interview was followed over the years by other high-profile interviews, a documentary, the launch of her YouTube channel, a picture book, and her own reality TV series — I Am Jazz — making her one of the most recognizable activists for transgender teens, children, and adults.

In her remarkable memoir, Jazz reflects on these very public experiences and how they have helped shape the mainstream attitude toward the transgender community. But it hasn’t all been easy. Jazz has faced many challenges, bullying, discrimination, and rejection, yet she perseveres as she educates others about her life as a transgender teen. Through it all, her family has been beside her on this journey, standing together against those who don’t understand the true meaning of tolerance and unconditional love. Now Jazz must learn to navigate the physical, social, and emotional upheavals of adolescence — particularly high school — complicated by the unique challenges of being a transgender teen. Making the journey from girl to woman is never easy — especially when you began your life in a boy’s body.



Unreliable Narrators

I just finished a book that has one of the best/most frustrating unreliable narrators I’ve come across, so I thought I’d highlight some of my favorite books with unreliable protagonists this week.

Allegedly.First, the book I read this weekend, Tiffany D. Jackson’s Allegedly. I have so many questions I want to ask Mary.

The description from Amazon:

Orange Is the New Black meets Walter Dean Myer’s Monster in this gritty, twisty, and haunting debut by Tiffany D. Jackson about a girl convicted of murder seeking the truth while surviving life in a group home.

Mary B. Addison killed a baby.

Allegedly. She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: a white baby had died while under the care of a churchgoing black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it?

There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted—and their unborn child—to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary’s fate now lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her Momma. No one knows the real Momma. But does anyone know the real Mary?

We Were Liars.My favorite unreliable narrator is Cady from E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars. The ending to this book blew my mind.

The description from Amazon:

A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from New York Times bestselling author, National Book Award finalist, and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart.
Read it.
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.

Vanishing Girls. Another favorite read with unreliable narrators is Lauren Oliver’s Vanishing Girls.

The description from Amazon:

New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver delivers a gripping story perfect for fans of We Were Liars and I Was Here, about two sisters inexorably altered by a terrible accident.

Dara and Nick used to be inseparable, but that was before the accident that left Dara’s beautiful face scarred and the two sisters totally estranged.

When Dara vanishes on her birthday, Nick thinks Dara is just playing around. But another girl, nine-year-old Madeline Snow, has vanished, too, and Nick becomes increasingly convinced that the two disappearances are linked. Now Nick has to find her sister, before it’s too late.

In this edgy and compelling novel, Lauren Oliver creates a world of intrigue, loss, and suspicion as two sisters search to find themselves, and each other.

What are your favorite books with unreliable narrators?

Favorite relationships in YA

Book heart.

Image adapted from photo by Flickr user Jamoor

Whether it’s romance, friendships, or family ties, Valentine’s Day centers on relationships. In honor of the holiday, here are some of my favorite relationships in YA fiction.

  1. Natasha and Daniel (The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon) — I was swept away by these characters and their story. I rarely use the word swoon, but I have never shipped a couple as hard as I shipped these two, even though I knew going into it they were going to fall in love. But even if romance isn’t your thing (it’s not usually mine), I highly recommend this book. The omniscient viewpoint lets us see just how many ways people are connected to one another, and how our lives and our decisions affect each other. All of the characters in this book have complicated, well-developed relationships with their friends and family members, so you’re getting more than just a boy-meets-girl romance.
  2. Simon and Blue (Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli) — A sweet, hilarious online courtship. It was hard to choose just one relationship from this book to be my favorite, because I love them all. Simon’s parents and siblings are amazing. He has awesome friends in Nick, Leah, and Abby. If you want real, rich characters, read Becky Albertalli’s books.
  3. Tate, Webb, Narnie, Fitz, and Jude (On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta) — This group’s friendship is the kind everyone wants to have growing up. Their love for each other fills every page, even though much of the book is narrated by another character years after the group split up.
  4. Kaz Brekker’s gang (Six of Crows series by Leigh Bardugo) — I was going to pick one relationship from this series, but I could decide which was my favorite. Wylan and Jesper? Nina and Inej? Kaz and Inej? Nina and Matthias? The whole group has such a great dynamic, and I love them all.
  5. Mikey and Jared (The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness) — Two best friends who have each other’s backs. Even when weird things start happening with the indie kids (the town super heroes), immortal princes, and chosen ones around them.
  6. Lydia and her parents (The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner) — A lot of YA novels have either bad or absent parents. Lydia’s parents are awesome. They’re supportive and kind, and also willing to call her out when she’s being unfairly judgmental.
  7. Maura, Calla, and Persephone and Ronan, Gansey, Adam, Noah, and Blue (The Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater) — I’m cheating here, because I couldn’t decide which of these two friend groups I like better. They’re both amazing. These characters look out for each other, and are incredibly supportive while also standing up to each other and calling each other out when it’s warranted.
  8. June and Day (Legend series by Marie Lu) — These two complement each other so well. Their loyalty to friends and family and their conviction to do what they believe is right make their story even stronger — especially when their ideas of what’s right pit them against one another.
  9. Naomi, Beto, and Cari (Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez) — These siblings are there for each other through highs and lows, and their love for one another lends this dark book a glimmer of brightness.
  10. Kell and Rhy (Shades of Magic series by V.E. Schwab) — I know this series isn’t YA, but it has strong crossover appeal, and I couldn’t leave it out! This is another case where I had trouble choosing just one relationship to feature, because they’re all great. Kell and Rhy are brothers who care deeply for each other, even though they have little in common. Honorable mention relationships from this series are Kell and Lila, Alucard and Lila, and Alucard and Rhy.

What are your favorite relationships in YA fiction?

Podcast Recommendation: Pod Save America

Headphones.Full disclosure: my recommendation this week is biased. The hosts of Pod Save America are former White House staffers who served under the Obama administration. So they are pretty liberal.

However, they also offer a unique perspective on political procedures and what’s happening in the country today. While other political podcasts I listen have more of a news/media approach, this one gives a former insider’s look, scrutinizing policies and procedures and comparing them to those of the previous administration. They also have a related podcast, Pod Save the World, that discusses international affairs.

What have you been listening to, reading, or watching these days?