Jay Asher visited me!

Okay okay, he obviously didn’t come to Virginia to visit me. I’d like to think so, but I don’t think international bestselling authors travel across the country to visit a girl who literally ran into him on the exhibit floor at the ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans. I digress…

Jay’s (we’re on a first name basis now) debut novel was first brought up at a 2012 1Book 1Community committee meeting. In discussing appropriate titles, a few of us mentioned 13 Reasons Why. The book didn’t make the cut for that particular program, but the library’s programming division manager didn’t forget our enthusiasm, and asked him to be the guest author at our annual It’s All Write short story contest. He agreed. Check out his blog to see pictures and read about from his visit.

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In addition to his role as keynote speaker, Jay visited a couple high schools, the juvenile detention center, and my library for an after-hours event. (Pictures from the day are posted on our Facebook page.) The after-hours event was awfully cool for a Teen Services Librarian (um, that’s me). He and his peers write the books I recommend on a daily basis. He ‘gets’ the audience. He understand the emotions, the needs, and the interests of the demographic I serve.

Jay mentioned that just that week he had learned of 13 Reasons Why making it onto the ALA’s most frequently challenged list. He wasn’t surprised, but he did what (I assume) he must do frequently – defended his novel (rightfully so), arguing that Hannah’s story helps those suffering from suicidal thoughts. And he knows it helps readers cope with their own suicidal thoughts and depression…because they tell him. In fact, a young girl sitting in our small audience spoke openly about her own insecurities, her past as a bullied youth, and her consideration of suicide as the only way out. Jay hears this at every event he attends. He – through his novel, talks, and events – has saved lives, and he uses testimonies from teens on his website – 13RWProject.

By becoming more comfortable as a country to discuss this topic, it will help.

Suicide is such a taboo topic. As a whole, we don’t discuss depression or mental instability. Or, we use it as an excuse for why horrible actions occur, without opening up the table for discussion. Whether or not Jay knew his book would have such a profound impact on the mental state of so many youth is not known…but as a reader and fan, I am proud to say that he has turned his (and his book’s) fame into a mission of hope. A really cool thing he did with Hannah – and all of the characters in the novel – was keeping her physical appearance a secret. He didn’t so much not tell as simply didn’t include it. That way, Hannah could be any girl. Hannah could be any age, any race, or of any socio-economic status. Granted, the girl on the cover is a thin white girl with straight blond hair…but reading the book, you don’t get that vibe. I appreciate the vagueness.

For all that serious stuff, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the thing I cannot stop LOL-ing about. The first book he ever wrote (I forgot what age he was…grade school? Adult? I forgot, but either way it’s hilarious) was titled Stop Easter Bunny, You Forgot Something! He had aspirations of writing funny books for kids, and while he is a very funny, witty guy, I am glad he listened to his heart when it told him to write a serious novel.

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Join me next month when I geek out over the visit of Ransom Riggs, author of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and Talking Booksand Tahereh Mafi, author of Shatter Me and the recently-released sequel Unravel Me.

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You read on your honeymoon?!

Of course I did. But so did he! In fact, I had to physically remove the book from his hands so we could get in the convertible Corvette and drive to Tampa for the Lightning game. I digress…

I barely stopped reading to get married, I even listened to an audiobook the day before. I was re-listening to 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher. (Yeah, talk about a debbie-downer the day before the happiest day of my life. What was I thinking?!) Asher is the keynote speaker at our annual It’s All Write short story contest awards ceremony in April, and I also wanted to be prepared to for the book discussion I am hosting on the title the week prior to his visit.

13I won’t lie (do I ever?)…I loved the book the first go-round when it was published back in 2007, and was angry with it on my second. Not the book, per say, but definitely Hannah. She had opportunities to open up and talk! She could talk to cassette tapes, but not Clay? Not Mr. Porter? Everything she said on the tapes was so deliberate and planned, but her actions were so demur and detached.

But maybe that’s the problem. She was able to be honest in private, but closed up in public. How many other teens seem fine when they are around others, but are full of anger or depression when they are alone? How many teens can’t find the words, or the right person to speak them to?

I hear it all the time from adults. That teens are selfish; they live with their noses shoved into their phones and computers; they are so different from teens of decades past. As someone who has served teens for a few years now, I can say they are all wrong about this demographic. They are no different. No more entitled. They are simply trying to keep their head above water in a large and often-changing world. Teens need adults who will listen to their concerns, because if we don’t listen to them about their smaller struggles, why would they come to us with their larger, potentially life-threatening ones?

Book 10: What They Always Tell Us by Martin Wilson

What They Always Tell Us by Martin Wilson is a 2008 YA novel about two brothers who are trying (hard at times, not at all at others) to just get through life, to understand themselves, their feelings, and those of the people they choose to surround themselves with. Alex, we learn in the first chapter, was so depressed with life that he drank Pine Sol. James, the older brother by one year, is a senior and has “senior-itus” towards school, his girlfriend, and his friends. Their confusion only intensifies with unexpected new love and a mysterious next-door neighbor.

This is a very good novel that so many teens can relate to. I haven’t been a teen since 2005, but I still empathized with the confusion of both boys, in regards to themselves, their feelings towards others, and, well, life. James is a popular tennis player but he felt alone and bored, even when surrounded by friends and classmates. Alex was happiest by himself, until he experienced sharing his time with someone else, someone who, unlike his last set of friends, wanted to be with him, too.

The teen years are ones where “best friend!” status can last a week. Where you can feel completely alone even amongst a group of 30 classmates; people you’ve known your whole life. Where one wrong move (or, wrong in the opinions of other people) could bring down every ounce of happiness you’ve ever known. Teen years are known for their drama, and this novel keeps it coming, but in a very boy-friendly way. I will definitely be recommending this book to mature-ish teens who can read about budding homosexual relationships and an attempted suicide without thinking that I’m the devil librarian/book-recommender.

25 books in 36 days…DONE!

Okay really it wasn’t that bad. All of the books I had to read for my Young Adult Literature course were books I WANTED to read. No seriously, I chose all but four of them. How many of YOU have chosen your own textbooks?

…and THAT is why I’m in the library profession 🙂

I digress…

My final paper for the class was titled Hope in Young Adult Suicide Novels. I spent a month having very odd and scary dreams, most involving death, and in others I wasn’t heard. I would be screaming trying to get my brother-in-law to understand me, or to get my sister to look at me, but no response. Or, they looked at me with disgust like I was speaking gibberish and wasn’t worth their time. Which is probably how some of today’s teens that consider or attempt suicide think; that they aren’t heard, understood, or seen. I have been so sad and confused that the only thing I wanted to do was walk forever in a direction away from my life. That’s part of being a teenager. But luckily I could get out my feelings in prayer, lacrosse practice (sorry to all the girls I illegally checked with my stick!), and my mom (not usually in the nicest of ways…I am sorry, mom). But what about those who don’t have a voice or an outlet?

Take Jayson in The Death of Jayson Porter by Jaime Adoff. He lived in a drug-infested housing project that even the police wouldn’t visit after dark. His mother beat him (hard), his crackhead father was usually too high to entertain a conversation. Even his only friend didn’t hear him, instead choosing to push him to shut up and work harder, or to just get over it because it’ll all get better one day. I get to wake up from my bad dreams, but Jayson awoke to them every morning.

I am still battling with the emotions and thoughts I had while reading those books and writing the paper. There is a part of me that wants to start a library at the youth detention centers throughout the state of Maryland. But the other part of me thinks that I’d be too scared or emotional to work with those special-needs teens. It’s work I’d love to be, but am I capable of it?

In the meantime, I got a job!! I’ll be the temporary librarian at a public charter school in Washington, DC. I’ll be there Sept-Dec., and be done just in time to graduate and move out of Laurel. I’ll use every lunch hour to look for a permenant job elsewhere. Anywhere.