Category Archives: Libraries

Books about social justice

Social Justice Reads.After the past weekend, I feel like now is a good time to share a list of books exploring themes of social justice. If you have titles to add to this list, please share in the comments!

I’m sure there are many more, so please share your favorites in the comments!

Genre Lessons: Historical Fiction Revisited

Antique watch.

I belong to a librarian book club that reads a different genre every month to improve our reader’s advisory skills. The idea is to get us better-acquainted with the types of books we may not normally read. In addition to improving my recommendations, I’m also studying these books from a writer’s perspective. Just because I don’t write a certain genre doesn’t mean I can’t learn from those who do. If you want to see other posts in this series, check out the “genre lessons” tag.

This month we’re reading historical fiction, and I picked a couple amazing books. Here are my biggest takeaways:

  1. Multiple plot lines are great for maintaining tension. Mackenzi Lee’s The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is a great example of this, with the adventure/mystery plot alternating with the romantic plot. (I don’t normally name the books I read for genre lessons, because some of these posts can get critical and reading is highly subjective, but I’m making an exception because those like me who struggle with pacing can learn a lot from this book.) Every time the tension eased in one plot line, it ratcheted up in the other. I’m not saying add subplots to increase tension, but if you have a subplot, consider complicating that at points where the main plot slows.
  2. How people say things is just as important as what they say. A good historical fiction novel immerses readers in the setting with vivid descriptions; a great one also has characters whose diction indicates their culture and upbringing. This goes for other genres, too; writing a character from the American South doesn’t mean just writing an accent, it means having that character use Southern expressions and turns of phrase.
  3. The best villains are characters whose motivations readers understand and believe, even when they disagree with the villain. My favorite villains are the ones I feel a little sorry for when they lose.

Those are the main things I noticed as I read historical fiction this month. Have you read any great books in this genre recently that helped improve your writing?

I’m suffering from a conference hangover right now, but I’ll talk about Midwest Writers Workshop next week!

Can you still like something that’s problematic? Reflections on Dear Evan Hansen

Dear Evan Hansen.I’ll start with a disclaimer: I have not seen the musical Dear Evan Hansen. I first heard of it when NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour did a review of the Tony Awards that included a clip from Ben Platt’s performance of “Waving Through a Window” that made me instantly look for the soundtrack. (For those of you whose libraries have hoopla, the original Broadway soundtrack is on there. I borrowed it within minutes of hearing that clip on PCHH.)

I then spent the next hour or so listening as I walked around my neighborhood. I absorbed the full soundtrack in one stretch. And the music really resonated with me. The songs are catchy, some of the lyrics are really poignant (as someone who struggles with anxiety, I really connected with “Waving Through a Window”), and the soundtrack genuinely moved me.

The next day I went online and looked up a plot summary. Because as much as I got from the music, I missed some key parts of the story just listening to the songs once. (If you’re not familiar with the plot, Wikipedia has a short summary here.) I had mixed feelings about the hero profiting off of a lie about his supposed friendship with a suicide victim. I don’t agree with Evan’s actions, but I can understand how he got there, fibbing to help Connor’s family cope with their grief. And since I missed so much plot just listening to the songs, I assume the show itself does a better job of showing the consequences of Evan’s actions.

Many critics seem to think so. In addition to winning six Tony Awards, the show received many glowing reviews. But others who have seen the play point out its problematic content. They argue that Evan never has to answer for his lies except to the Murphy family, who all forgive him despite the fact that he took advantage of them when they were grieving, making them his surrogate family because he was unsatisfied with his own living situation. While I heard the opening number, “Does Anybody Have a Map?” as two mothers’ frustrations at not always knowing the right thing to say (which, though I’m not a mother, I sometimes feel in my role as a teen librarian), critics have argued this presents the parents of teens struggling with mental illness as victims. While mental illness affects family members, too, focusing too much on their struggles can diminish the very real struggles of the individual who has a mental illness.

I’m ill-equipped to form a full opinion on this musical until I’ve seen the play myself. I worry that we don’t get to hear from Connor — the real Connor, not the Connor Evan invents for the Murphy family — at all. I worry that Evan may not face enough consequences for his actions, especially since nobody except his mother and the Murphy family learns he lied about his friendship with Connor. But I also genuinely like this music. I see it in the way someone (I believe it was Roxanne Gay, but please correct me if I misattribute this) described misogynistic rap music: she knows the lyrics are horrible, but it’s so catchy, so she’s going to listen to it and sing along.

I know Dear Evan Hansen has problematic aspects. As I said, I can’t form a complete opinion of the show until I’ve seen it. But I do know I still like the songs, and I’m going to let myself listen to and enjoy them, and I’m going to be critical of the play.

Have you seen Dear Evan Hansen? Have you heard the soundtrack? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

A slightly off-topic rant about casual misogyny

Neutral face emoji.The other day, a regular patron came up to me at the desk.

“Can I help you?” I asked.

“Let me see that smile.”

I get this line from this man a lot, and sometimes I’ll laugh it off, but today I just wasn’t feeling it. Maybe it’s the increase in casual misogyny I’ve experienced lately, but I just did not want to do that.

“Is there something I can help you with?” I asked.

“Let me see that smile.”

This is the point where in the past I’ve smiled a little because it gets him to go away, and really, it doesn’t do me any harm, right? But not today. Today I gave him a deadpan stare for several seconds.

“Okay, or not,” he said, and walked away. Like I’d denied him something he deserved.

And for several minutes after that, my thoughts spiraled. Should I have just smiled? Would he complain to my boss about the rude customer service he received? Never mind that he (and many others, but that’s a story for another post) makes me incredibly uncomfortable throughout every exchange we have. It was only a smile…

Except, here’s what I wanted to say to him:

“Sir, my job is to help you conduct research; help you find your next great book, movie, or CD; and help you use our computers, copiers, and scanner. If you have a question about any of those things, I’m happy to help you. But my job is not to perform for you. And I’d appreciate it if you treated me with the respect of a professional whose job it is to help you in a courteous manner, not to look or act a certain way for your benefit.”

But I like my job, and I like having a job, and I can’t come up with responses like this on the spot. (It’s why I’m a writer. I’m much better when I have the time to sort my thoughts out.)

So, okay, this is just another story of casual misogyny in the workplace. Nothing new or extraordinary. And that’s the problem. This happens all. the. time. And every time we give in so he (or she, though it’s most often he) will go away, we’re telling him that he can do that. That it’s his right to demand we smile for him.

And as long as we keep smiling on cue, we’ll keep being asked to do so.

Lest you think I’m a cold-hearted jerk (or any of the stronger language Internet trolls will use to describe women who ask to be treated with basic human decency), I’d like to think I’m pretty pleasant. My managers and co-workers would tell you I provide excellent customer service. But being asked to smile (or being called “sweetheart,” “darling,” etc.) makes me want to scowl and tell them I’m not their sweetheart/darling/etc.

I don’t have a neat conclusion to this story, except to say that I’m tired of smiling on cue, and tired of worrying I’ll be viewed less favorably by my employers if I stand up to this kind of treatment.

Readers, I’m sure you have experience with this. How do you handle casual misogyny in the workplace? I welcome your thoughts, stories, and civil debate in the comments.

YA Romance with all the feels

I just finished reading Sandhya Menon’s When Dimple Met Rishi, and I absolutely loved it. Rishi may be my new favorite book boyfriend. And Dimple is driven, fierce, unapologetic … in a word, fantastic. Seriously, if you’re looking for a great love story, read this book. For those who are curious, here’s the summary from Amazon:

When Dimple Met Rishi.Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers … right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him — wherein he’ll have to woo her — he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

And if you’re looking for another book like When Dimple Met Rishi, I recommend the following:

The Sun is Also a Star.The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

This book takes a similar look at the role of fate and the universe in bringing people together. Like Dimple and Rishi, Natasha and Daniel both have complicated relationships with their family’s culture, and how it fits with their American identity. And this book also has a practical girl who’s interested in STEM and a romantic boy who’s artistic. Here’s the summary from Amazon:

Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store — for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

The Selection.The Selection by Kiera Cass

This series also features a kick-butt girl who wants to change the world and a boy who’s a hopeless romantic. Like When Dimple Met Rishi, the chemistry between America and her love interest (I’m being vague to avoid spoilers for those who haven’t read it yet) gave me all the feels. And that’s not a phrase I use often. Here’s the summary from Amazon:

For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape a rigid caste system, live in a palace, and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon. But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her, and competing for a crown she doesn’t want.

Then America meets Prince Maxon — and realizes that the life she’s always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.

Anna and the French Kiss.Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Like Dimple and Rishi, Anna and Etienne have complicated relationships with their families, and they’re navigating life without their parents (though in this case they’re at boarding school, not a summer convention). While this is more of a slow-burn romance, Etienne is just as sweet as Rishi, and the story will keep you turning pages. Here’s the summary from Amazon:

Anna is looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. Which is why she is less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris — until she meets Etienne St. Clair: perfect, Parisian (and English and American, which makes for a swoon-worthy accent), and utterly irresistible. The only problem is that he’s taken, and Anna might be, too, if anything comes of her almost-relationship back home.

As winter melts into spring, will a year of romantic near-misses end with the French kiss Anna — and readers — have long awaited?

Have you read any of these books? What would you add to this list? Please share in the comments!

A year as Teen Librarian

CalendarYesterday was my one-year anniversary as a teen librarian. I’ve learned a lot, and gotten to do a lot of really cool things with really cool people. It’s hard to choose a favorite program/service/interaction, but looking back, here are twelve of my favorite moments (in no particular order, because how could I choose a single favorite anything?)​ from the last year:

  1. Watching a teen who’d caused some trouble at the beginning of the school year become a leader at gaming programs, even teaching me Kendama tricks at one game night and encouraging me to keep practicing.
  2. Working with a couple members of the Teen Advisory Board to plan and run our Kendama Tournament.
  3. Watching a young woman find her dream dress at our Project Fairy Godmother Prom Dress Giveaway. When a staff member told her she looked like a princess, she informed her, hands on hips, “I am a princess.”
  4. Doing book talks in an English Language Learning class with an amazing, enthusiastic teacher. After I pitched Alexandra Diaz’s The Only Road, the teacher asked, “Who wants to read that book right now?” and the entire class raised their hands. When I was finished presenting, the students then raced to check out our digital copies of the book.
  5. Working with the English Language Arts Coordinator at one of the local middle schools to allow all of their students to access our digital resources with their student ID number.
  6. Having a teen share some poems he wrote with me.
  7. Geeking out with an enthusiastic reader over the last book in the Selection series.
  8. Sharing tips with a teen writer as we both made our way through NaNoWriMo together.
  9. Having a teen share the designs he made in a digital art class, which blew my mind.
  10. Meeting and chatting with so many students about everything from books to Hamilton to Pokemon Go during book talks.
  11. Having a passive reader’s advisory interaction with a teen who asked for book recommendations on the white board in the Teen Room.
  12. Watching students in friendly competition doing the Kahoot! trivia I made about our digital resources during book talks.

There have been many, many more awesome moments, and I’m looking forward to many more years of working with these amazing young people!

Books I’m looking forward to

I’m taking a short vacation before Summer Reading starts and the library gets really busy. In addition to seeing family and working on going from zero draft to first draft on a new-ish project, I hope to get some reading time in. Here are the books I have on my to-read pile or downloaded to my phone.

Pointe, Claw.Pointe, Claw by Amber J. Keyser

I’m about half-way through this book. Rarely do I encounter a book so intense/heavy that I need to step away from it, but I’m finding with this book I can only read in one-hour stretches. It’s brilliant, though also dark, so if you’re looking for a fun escape, maybe try something else. Here’s the summary from Amazon:

Jessie Vale dances in an elite ballet program. She has to be perfect to land a spot with the professional company. When Jessie is cast in an animalistic avant-garde production, her careful composure cracks wide open. Nothing has felt more dangerous.

Meanwhile, her friend Dawn McCormick’s world is full of holes. She wakes in strange places, bruised, battered, and unable to speak. The doctors are out of ideas.

These childhood friends are both running out of time. Jessie has one shot at her ballet dream. Dawn’s blackouts are getting worse. At every turn, they crash into the many ways girls are watched, judged, used, and discarded. Should they play it safe or go feral?

The Star-Touched Queen.The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

This is going to be the first of my road trip audiobooks. I listened to the first chapter and love the Indian-inspired fantasy setting. Here’s the summary from Amazon:

Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of Death and Destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire…

But Akaran has its own secrets—thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most … including herself.

Girl Out of Water.Girl Out of Water by Laura Silverman

I’ve been looking forward to this book for almost a year now. It should be a good, lighter follow-up to Pointe, Claw. Here’s the summary from Amazon:

Ocean breeze in her hair and sand between her toes, Anise can’t wait to spend the summer before her senior year surfing and hanging out on the beach with friends. Santa Cruz is more than her home—it’s her heart. But when her aunt, a single mother, is in a serious car accident, Anise must say goodbye to California to help care for her three young cousins.

Landlocked Nebraska is the last place Anise wants to be. Sure, she loves her family, but it’s hard to put her past behind her when she’s living in the childhood house of the mother who abandoned her. And with every Instagram post, her friends back home feel further away.

Then she meets Lincoln, a charismatic, one-armed skater who challenges her to swap her surfboard for a skateboard. Because sometimes the only way to find your footing is to let go.

gena/finn.Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson

I was lucky enough to meet Kat at an author event near me last weekend, and picked up a copy of this book, which has been on my to-read list for a while. Online friends becoming IRL friends? Yes, please! Here’s the summary from Amazon:

Gena and Finn would have never met but for their mutual love for the popular show Up Below. Regardless of their differences—Gena is a recent high school graduate whose social life largely takes place online, while Finn is in her early twenties, job hunting and contemplating marriage with her longtime boyfriend—the two girls realize that the bond between them transcends fanfiction. When disaster strikes and Gena’s world turns upside down, only Finn can save her, and that, too, comes with a price. Told through emails, text messages, journal entries, and blog posts, Gena/Finn is a story of friendship and love in the digital age.

What are you reading? Any books I should add to my to-read list?