Sexism, Anger, and Andrew Smith

So the internet blew up again because Andrew Smith said this:

On the flip side, it sometimes seems like there isn’t much of a way into your books for female readers. Where are all the women in your work?
I was raised in a family with four boys, and I absolutely did not know anything about girls at all. I have a daughter now; she’s 17. When she was born, that was the first girl I ever had in my life. I consider myself completely ignorant to all things woman and female. I’m trying to be better though.

I have a lot of feelings about this.

The first is that I’m not all that surprised by his comment.

I’ll be honest about saying that the only book I’ve read of his is the recent Grasshopper Jungle. And I probably won’t read any more of his books because I fucking hated it.

To be fair there were many elements of the book that I liked, or at least respected. From a literary perspective, it was well written and much of my ambivalence was purely personal. I absolutely did not need to read that much detailed description of giant insect sex, see the word “semen” printed that many times, or read that the main character was “horny” every single paragraph. And that’s okay. As a lesbian who hates bugs, that’s not really my cup of tea. So whatever. I could still have acknowledged it as an excellent book.


Except for the treatment of women in the book.

The adult women are weak, one dimensional characters who are so blitzed out on Xanax they can barely function. They have no apparent role in the story, and seem to serve no purpose in the world Smith has built.

Austin’s girlfriend, Shan, is also lacking any definite personality. She serves only as the “other” choice to set up the triangle between Austin, Robby and Shan, to create conflict for Austin. Shan finding out that Austin kissed Robby could have been a brilliant opportunity to explore the complex feelings one has when one finds out one’s boyfriend is attracted to boys. I have experienced those feelings and they are many. But rather than acknowledging the fact that this would have an emotional impact on Shan, and also that Austin kissed someone else of any gender, Smith chose to make Shan’s reaction as horrible as possible.

At the end (SPOILERS) Shan is basically denied a choice about giving birth to the child Austin fathered. The child lives with Austin, who also gets to go out with Robby on adventures. It is the very definition of having your cake and eating it too. And we see that Shan’s real purpose in the story was to bring the next generation of life into being.

Gross. Sexist. Totally uncool.

When I brought up these points with a male teen librarian, his comment was,

Teenage boys don’t need more books sending them the message that they can do whatever they want with no consequences. That is the opposite of what they need. Everything on earth is telling them that. What they need are books sending the message that when they treat people of any gender badly there are consequences. And they deserve those consequences. Because they aren’t entitled to shit.

This is why, with my problems with Grasshopper Jungle summed up so nicely by my co-worker, I am not remotely surprised that Smith thought that saying women are these utterly different, utterly unknowable creatures was acceptable, and that his words would have no impact.

Now, do I think that bullying him to the point he deletes his twitter account is okay? No. I don’t. Because he is a person and we all say stupid things and yelling at him about it won’t solve anything. But I find it interesting that authors who quickly call out Jonathan Franzen for his ignorant and sexist comments are coming to Smith’s defense.

Because when we are friends with people we want to believe the best in them and we make excuses for them. I’m sure Andrew Smith is a nice person. I don’t think he should be treated this way online. But what he said was deeply problematic, and no matter how nice he is, no matter what he “meant” or how much he’s “trying,” it doesn’t change the fact that his comments reflect a society that continues to view boys’ stories as universal and girls’ stories as niche. It reflects a world where it is possible for a man to grow to adulthood, work professional and have a family while still remaining “ignorant to all things woman and female.

And while we don’t need to yell at him, we do need to talk about this.

We need to talk about how girls have NEVER had the option of viewing boys as a alien, unknowable creatures.

We need to talk about how we find it acceptable for girls to read about boys masturbating but not the other way around. How it’s okay to have literally buckets of semen in a book, but not expect boys to read about menstruation.

We need to talk about the pervasive presence of female characters who are one-dimensional and serve only superficial functions to the plot, and how that presentation of gender is problematic to how all genders view themselves and each other.

We need to talk. Not yell. But also acknowledge that women are regularly trolled for simply daring to speak at all. Women are attacked online and forced into silence for fear of their lives. Not that that makes it okay to attack a man, but just that we still live in a world where women know every word they speak will carry consequences, and that men are so often surprised when they words they speak do the same.

And beyond all this talking, I want to see action. I want to see Smith actively work to improve his writing of women and girls. Don’t just say “I’m trying” take steps to changing things. When people truly want to do something, or learn something, or change something THEY FUCKING DO IT!!! If you want to write better female characters then you talk to women and you read about women and you talk to people who write women well and you learn how to write better female characters. You. Just. Do. And if you don’t do those things then you clearly don’t want to do it enough to change. And I have a problem with that.

I am angry about Smith’s words. And I’m angry that the world tells me that I’m overreacting by being angry when this is ANOTHER example of sexism that piles on top of all the other examples of sexism that I’ve come across in the past 24 hours alone.

I don’t think he’s a terrible person. But I have a right to be angry. I have a right to demand better from authors. I have a right to demand more from people. Especially people of such privilege.

let me do my job

“You’re Young”: My Experience with Ageism in the Workplace

A lot of conversation regrading ageism in the workplace focuses on hiring practices and the experiences of older adults. And I’m sure there are legitimate elements to that.


What about the experiences of young people in the workplace whose knowledge is dismissed out of hand? What about getting hired for a job you know you are 100% qualified to do and having people challenge your every comment and decision even though they work in a totally different department?

That’s what I’m talking about today.

Because I regularly get dismissed out of hand for being – and looking – very young.

Patrons flat out ask me my age. Not my work experience, or my educational background. As if a number can convey all my life’s experiences. And as if it is any of their freaking business.

But while I get skeptical looks from parents who drop their kids off, they are quickly won over through a conversation or two and their teen talking about what they did in YOUmedia that day. But with co-workers, it is not so simple.

The other day I was having a conversation with a co-worker. This person was giving me completely unsolicited advice about my job. Telling me all about how I should interact with the teens in my space, what kinds of programs I should run, how not to make the adult patrons in the library mad.

I was irritated about this for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that this person has never for a day in their life worked with teens professionally, but then they said these words and I almost lost it:

“Since you’re young and starting out.”

Let’s be clear about two things:

  1. I am neither particularly young nor am I even remotely “starting out”
  2. I am really damn good at my job

I am really good at my job. Yet, I am constantly pressured to prove myself to those I work with.

These people see only my short height, my freckled baby face, and my converse shoes. They see only someone significantly younger than them and so assume I must be incapable.

Never mind that I went through a rigorous interview process to prove I was capable before getting this job.

Never mind that I taught in the ghettos of DC which were significantly rougher circumstances than this.

Never mind that I know more about computers and technology than all of these people combined.

No, I am younger than them and therefore can’t possibly know what I’m doing.

I’ve been working professionally with teens for over 10 years. In that time I’ve headed departments, taken leadership over projects, sat on committees and ran my own damn business for a while. So when I talk about collaborating on a presentation for a conference and you chuckle as if I’m a 5 year old who just said they’re going to the moon, it’s going to piss me off.

I regularly sit in department head meetings, or in conversation with co-workers at the reference desk and far too many of them feel entitled to inform me how I should run my department. They don’t think the teen books should be moved, they don’t think the space should be locked, they don’t think we should ever use expensive equipment because it will definitely get stolen.

And I just wonder – what is it about me that gives you the impression I am not 100% in control of this?

Don’t be fooled by the purple hair, I have answers to all these questions.* In fact, I’m happy to share my wealth of information on the topic of teen emotional and social development, and best practices in teen services. I am. I could talk about this shit for hours.

But these people don’t want to hear my answers. They’ve already dismissed what I have to say. And that’s rude enough, but what drives me crazy is the underlying assumption that I haven’t thought of each and every one of these situations and scenarios. What makes me livid is when I flippantly say – in an attempt to deflect an interrogation about my conflict resolution skills –  “I can handle rowdy teens, I just pull out my stern teacher face and angry teacher voice” and their response is to demand, “Oh, show me. Show me your teacher face.”

Bitch I ain’t no performing monkey!

And I could tell the stories. How I once had a student throw a chair at my head. How I’ve had students go to juvie and get killed in gang fights. How I lost students because they had to flee mom’s ex-boyfriend, and worse. I could recite my graduate thesis project about services for LGBTQ Teens in the Library and give you an hour long speech pimping #WeNeedDiverseBooks. I could paraphrase the research and articles from all the professional magazines I read. I could detail my qualifications to these skeptics in the same condescending voice they use when talking to me.

I could. But I don’t. Because I strive to be an example of actual professionalism. Or at least not be a giant asshole.

And also because it probably wouldn’t make a difference.

And my frustration with the way I am so often treated – dismissed, overlooked, patronized because I just look young, only fuels my determination to be an advocate for teens. Because teens have to deal with that kind of bullshit All. The. Damn. Time.

Teens are heaped with responsibility and yet still have almost no control over their lives. They are expected to behave as adults but given almost none of the privileges. Adults around them demand respect automatically, while not being any more respectful to a teen than to a pet.

I work well with teens because I like them. And teens like me because I treat them like people. It makes me so sad to see how these so often surprises them. Many teens, especially the at-risk teens I work with, have never encountered this before. And I regularly learn things from them! I learn about new technology, I learn new perspectives. Teens haven’t quite been beaten into submission and a cynical state about the world yet. It’s wonderful.

So even if I was young and even if I was just starting out, it’s not acceptable to be speaking to me that way. It’s not acceptable to be assuming that I’m incapable. It’s not acceptable to treat me as if I don’t know what I’m doing.

Have you experienced this sort of behavior? Share your stories in the comments.

*The teen books go in the teen space because duh. And because research. Which I’ve read and can summarize for you with quotes and statistics. The teen space is locked because it’s for the teens and no adults can’t be in there even when there aren’t any teens in. Because it’s not for adults. And since we cater to adults the other 99.9% of the time, I am here to stand up for the teens and demand that just this once we do what is in their best interest. And the adults can get the fuck over it. We are going to use the fancy expensive equipment we are lucky enough to have and I am going to both supervise and also trust the teens enough to understand that it’s a privilege that will be revoked if they steal our stuff. Teens understand this and are generally trustworthy, I promise.


A Day in the Life of a Teen Librarian

In the wake of the NPR story about reference questions before the internet, I’ve had a lot of people asking more specifically what I do as a librarian and if I still get these kinds of questions. And this was right around Christmas where many of the gifts I gave where things I made (or are in the process of making… my family has a long history of giving half completed presents) with skills/resources from my job, so I was bombarded with a host of “when did you learn all this stuff?” queries. To which I replied “umm… it’s pretty much what I do at work.”

This led me to remember how little people know about what librarians actually do.

So… let’s start the new year getting to know each other better, shall we?

I spend usually 2 hours a day on the adult reference desk, or on weekends sometimes I’m in the computer commons instead. In the computer commons I help people make charts in Word, navigate websites and compose emails.  I’ll be honest that working the adult reference desk is not my favorite thing. I don’t really like adults. For one thing, when they come up and bark “computer” or “Sun Times” at me without making eye contact, I can’t respond with a snarky, “I’m sorry, was that a question? Are you identifying this piece of equipment? I just don’t speak mumble, can you speak up a bit?” like I would with my teens. Adults get really pissed when you point out they’re being rude. Apparently. The other thing is that since I work that desk so infrequently there are so many questions that I still don’t know the answer to and that bothers me. Because I’m a know it all.

hermione being a know it all

That said. On the adult reference desk I do a lot of things. More than anything else I find books for patrons. Sometimes they know the title or author. Sometimes they just want “books on grant writing” or “books on nutrition.” I refer a lot of people to our urban fiction section. I tell a lot of people that all the copies of 50 Shades of Gray are checked out and the waiting list is 357 names long. I put books on hold, and do shelf checks for other branches and send books out to other branches. I direct people to websites and track down online resources for them to use.

And I answer the phone. Sometimes I look up phone numbers or addresses of businesses for people without internet or smartphones. I talk to people about upcoming programs. There is one lady who regularly calls with the most random questions. One day I spent 45 minutes on the phone with her explaining the difference between Intelligent Design and Evolutionary Theism. Seriously. I was just happy that was a subject on which I could speak with authority because it’s so much harder when I have to self educate while also explaining. One day I had someone ask me to look up the distance between Toronto and Vancouver and then Vancouver and Prince Edward Island and a bunch of other Canadian locations. Once a patron asked me to track down a Canadian Christian radio program to see if there was any way to listen to it in Chicago.

challenge accepted


I also have helped women download papers in order to file for divorce, directed them where to get a restraining order and told them how to apply for food stamps. I’m asked where the computers and the bathrooms are about 150 times a day.

But then, sometimes I am pulled over to a table to help someone create a Youtube account and upload their first video, so I guess it all balances out.

Then I usually get some off desk time in varying amounts. Not usually more than an hour or two, but on Mondays I get a few more. This is when I do paperwork and planning and reading. No I don’t get to just sit around reading novels all day, (though when I’m leading discussions or book clubs I will sometimes sneak an hour or two of reading in) I read reviews of books and keep track of upcoming releases and generally what’s going on in the library world. I’m a big supporter of #WeNeedDiverseBooks and I have a couple blogs I read regularly that tackle issues and have ideas for programming. There are always lots of emails and I’m on a few committees so there are meetings and planning of events. This is also the time when I teach myself Adobe Creative Suite, how to use the fancy DSLR camera that just arrived in my office, and how to work the 3D printer and make stickers with the vinyl cutter. I plan my workshops during this time and have a sample for most things we make. And eat lunch somewhere in there. Usually.

food is one of my favorite parts of the day

My Teen Space is part of the YOUmedia Chicago network which is is the raddest thing ever:

YOUmedia operates as a drop-in, out-of-school learning environment for teens to develop skills in digital media, STEM and making. YOUmedia applies the practice of connected learning to our programming model. We encourage participants to create rather than consume, and teens are encouraged to learn based on self-interest through intergenerational and peer collaborations. We see the library as a node on a teen’s pathway to lifelong learning, and we connect teens to other learning opportunities that will lead to skill-building as well as college and career development.

During YOUmedia hours I check out laptops and controllers for the Playstation 4 (I know you’re jealous) to the teens and register new teens for the program. Often the teens want to talk about what’s going on at home or school and I try to be a sympathetic shoulder and a source of useful advice. I remind them that getting into college is good and getting in trouble for fighting is bad. But if they do get in trouble, they can always come to me. I’m a safe space in all senses of the word.

I run workshops almost every day on lots of different things. I teach Garage Band to teens who want to be able to produce/create their own music. I help teens make stickers or stuff with the 3D printer. I help with homework whenever I’m able, and point them toward online help sites when I can’t (see also: geometry is dumb). I do workshops in computer coding and duct tape crafts. We have free art time for teens to just bring their creativity. And I have so much I want to do: open mic night, book clubs, FAFSA workshops, writing groups. There is never enough time and never enough duct tape.

the clock is ticking

While actively teaching and managing logistics I’m also the one doing the wrangling. Mediating arguments, keeping the noise level reasonable (I’m not a shushing librarian, but screaming across the room is a little much), making sure our fancy tech doesn’t get stolen. I’m the one who knows that [redacted’s] short fuse is about something at home and not about the kid who just looked at him ‘wrong.’ I’m the one who listens and doesn’t judge, who always gives them the benefit of the doubt and talks to them like they’re human.

You’d be amazed at how rarely teens encounter this.

I talk to teens about books: what they’re reading, what they’re forced to read, what they like to read for fun. I have no problem telling them that I hated Great Expectations or thought The Life of Pi was a piece of  pretentious, masturbatory garbage. Most often I’m asked to help them find “a book that isn’t boring,” for them to take to school.  We talk about what they changed in the latest Hunger Games movie (aka critical analysis) and why banning books is dumb.

Amidst all of this, I try to teach small lessons. Like when two boys come to sign in and one turns to the other and says “Ladies first” and the other kids giggle, I ask – with my serious face on – why that is funny? Not in a mean or defensive way, just pretend to be confused and get them to explain it to me, because that process makes them realize that the foundation of the quip is the belief that being a girl is bad, and since we all know that being a girl is awesome, that doesn’t really make sense, huh?

We call these “teachable moments” and they’re perhaps the most important part of what I do.


And then I go home and I read YA books and I take online classes to teach myself photography skills so I can do workshops with the teens on that. I meet with other teen librarians and we talk about books, what we liked and didn’t like, and I’m reminded that even among us there can be widely different views.

And I think the best part of my job is that when friends or acquaintances contact me on facebook and ask for recommendations for themselves, for their parents, for their nieces and nephews and kids, I am happy to oblige!

And then some days, not many, but once in a while, I get to spend the day at a comic conference or a book awards discussion or play the new video games that just arrived. (You know, so I can talk about them with the teens that come to play.)

The days of the shushing, pre-internet librarian are done, but we are what we’ve always been – there to help you. And as a Teen librarian, I am here to help teens start to become the people they want to be.

And the rest of the time? I’m like this.

imreading get out of my room




Ring Out Wild Bells

That’s right, it’s time for a nostalgic end-of-the-year post. You know you love it.

Looking Back

2014 – It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

I’ve never actually read A Tale of Two Cities. Mostly because I find Dickens boring as fuck and I never had it assigned to me in high school. However, this super famous opening line pretty much sums up this year for me.

I started this year in one of the darkest places I’ve ever been in my life – and I’ve been through some shit, ya’ll. In general, the last 10 years have been pretty shitty. Partly because everyone’s 20s totally blow. Partly because I was figuring out who I was – coming out of the closet, working out what I wanted to do with my life and then trying to start to be a person. And partly because sometimes the world shits on your head and calls it a hat.

At the start of 2014 I was working a very part time job as a library associate in a small library in the suburbs of Chicago.  My lame ass job was not enough to live on and pay my insanely enormous student loans, so I was also waiting tables at the local Olive Garden. And I had another job doing data entry because it had flexible hours.

I had – count them – not one, but TWO masters degrees and the most common question I was asked from January to May was, “Can we get some more breadsticks?”


I was constantly anxious. Anxious that I would get strep throat because I had no insurance, or god forbid break an ankle or something. Anxious that my car would break down since I had no money for repairs. Anxious that I had made the worst decision in my entire life when I left teaching even though it literally made me suicidal. Anxious that I would never ever get a full time job and would default on all my loans and would have to go back and live with my parents for the rest of my life like the giant loser I was convinced I was.

But I did the only thing I could do. I kept applying. I got better at applying. I got better at interviewing. But mostly I just had to wait until things lined up.

In April of this year, I had 7 interviews in the span of 2 weeks.

I was offered every position except one.

And in June I started my current position as a YOUmedia Teen Librarian at Chicago Public Library.

It’s literally the dream job. The Best of Times.

It’s the job I cited in a practicum presentation about teen programs and teen spaces that were leading the way in the field. The job I molded my library school courses around building my qualifications for.

The second half of this year could not be more different to the beginning. I live in a city I love and have made friends with a group of amazing, smart, wonderful queer women. I have coworkers that inspire me and make me want to hang out with them and talk about books outside the office (aka over beer).  I finally cut a totally toxic person out of my life and couldn’t believe the weight that lifted off my shoulders.  I work with kids who make me laugh and have so much hope and promise that shines through their faces. I care about these kids. I worry what the world will do to them. I can’t change the world, but I can teach them a few skills to take with them. I can tell them they are valued. That their lives matter.

I feel a sense of purpose. And I know, Mr. Feeney, that I’m doing good.


Looking Ahead

I’ve found that being in a good place emotionally has drastically changed my perspective on the holidays. Where I’ve usually been a total Grinchy cynical Scrooge for my adult life, this year I found myself getting all kinds of in the spirit of things. I put up a Christmas tree and everything. So I guess it’s not surprise that as the girl who has always despised New Year Resolutions, I find myself looking to the future all resolution-y.

I still maintain that much of the hype around resolutions is crap, and that resolutions are so often framed in negative language. We resolve to “stop” this or that, to “lose” this or that. I just flat out refuse to cave in to that mindset.

So while I am an utterly fantastic human, there are things I want to do this year that will improve my general awesomeness.

  1. Apply for the ALA Emerging Leaders program. This in conjunction with generally becoming more active in the national ALA, YALSA, & GLBTRT organizations. I want to start putting myself in a position to be on committees, submit reviews to publish in VOYA and School Library Journal. I want to be part of the national conversation about teen services in libraries. (professional goal)
  2. Finish my novel. I completed 50,000 of a first draft for NaNoWriMo this November which is the longest I’ve ever written on a single project. It got me about halfway through the story, and now that I’ve worked out a lot of narrative kinks (I made some major changes to a major character) I’m starting over at the beginning. I want to have a full first draft done by March and a full revision done by October so that I can embark on a new project for next NaNoWriMo. (artistic goal)
  3. Exercise 2x per week. One thing about waiting tables was that I walked like 6 miles every shift. I walk a lot because I live in Chicago, but less so now that it’s cold. And in general I am a happier person when I am more active. I sleep better. I crave more healthy food. I feel better about myself. So I want to exercise more. Which can mean talking a long walk, or going to the fitness center, or doing my yoga video. Twice a week. Totally doable. The goal is to be healthy, not to lose weight or look like a supermodel. Just to be the best version of  me as I can. (health goal)
  4. Cook Healthy Meals 2x per week. Again, with the small goals. I cook a lot now, but it’s more along the lines of spaghetti, or chicken with pasta, or cheese quesadillas.  Carbs are cheap and filling. And delicious. So I need more fruits and vegetables in my life. I bought a steamer insert so I can steam broccoli and asparagus. Cooking complete meals takes planning, and I’m only cooking for one, but my goal is to cook two real, balanced, healthy meals a week. Because my plan is basically to live forever. (health goal)
  5. Pay off Credit Cards. I don’t know if this one will actually happen, but I would love to have all my credit card debt paid off by the end of this year. I’m budgeting like a maniac. And I hate having to say no to fun things, but I’m finally starting to work out this whole adulting thing and I’m trying to keep it up. (adulting goal)
  6. Blog. So I’m still kind of finding what I want this blog to be but I know I want to get back to blogging more than I did this past year. I want to review LGBTQIA+ and other diverse YA books. I want to talk more about my experience as a teen librarian. I imagine that occasionally I’ll rant about things not related to libraries or books, but I want most of the focus to be on those things. (artistic/professional)
  7. Read Diversely. For me this means something slightly different than it probably does for other people. I read a lot of YA lit, and a lot of Queer lit. This is partially because of my job and partially because I like it. So this year I want to try and branch out.  I want to read more adult books, more non-fiction, and more of the classics that I missed in high school. I want to read more books by/about people of color and by/about folks who are differently abled. I also want to read more books by people with whom I disagree. And I already read a lot by women authors, but even more so. (life/professional goal)
  8. Learn my fancy camera. So when I told my dad that part of my new awesome job involved teaching about photography and how I need to learn about that before I teach it, he loaned me his old but still super fancy DSLR camera. So I want to learn how to use it and how to take awesome pictures. (artistic/professional goal)

I feel like I’m in a great place and I want to keep being in that great place. Developing the friendships that I’ve made these past few months. Doing the dating thing (I’m really bad at it). Being generally awesome at my job. I’ve been adulting so hard and I want to just keep adulting harder.  I have a lot of hope for 2015. I have a feeling it is gonna be





Book Review: Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

Mini Review: Gabi!! Be my BFF! And then can we travel back in time to give this book to my 17 year old self!

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces

Title: Gabi, A Girl In Pieces

Author: Isabel Quintero

Published: Cinco Puntos Press, 2014, 284 pages

Recommended if you like: Books with Diverse Characters, Novels in journal form, Positive depiction of fat girls, Empowered teen feminist girls, Zines/Spoken word poetry

Read-a-Like: Perks of Being a Wallflower, Jellicoe Road, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass

Rating: 6 out of 5 Scotchmallows

First Line: “My mother named me Gabriela after my grandmother who– coincidentally–didn’t want to meet me when I was born because my mother was not married and was therefore living in sin. My mom has told me the story many, many MANY times of how, when she confessed to my grandmother that she was pregnant with me, her mother beat her. BEAT HER! She was twenty-five. That story forms the basis of my sexual education.”

Oh Gabi, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways!

This book is basically perfect, y’all. I’m trying to think of something that could be better in this book and the only thing that comes to mind is that…. nope. Nothing. I can’t think of anything that could be better in this book.


The whole book can basically be summarized by this quote:

“It’s probably hard for [my mom] to have been raised in some pueblo in the 1970s where being good at housework and being pure were seen as necessary traits for being married– because that is what you were supposed to aspire to do. So it’s even harder (I’m guessing) to raise a Mexican-American daughter in Southern California in the 2000s, a girl who thinks that being good at housework and having an intact hymen are totally overrated.”


Things I love.


Gabi is the most/only outspokenly feminist character in YA I have ever encountered. She takes down rape culture with her poem Instructions for Understanding What ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ Really Means. Makes a zine (a zine, y’all a FUCKING ZINE!) titled The Female Body about all the things teen girls need to hear about their bodies but no one ever tells them. She smacks the shit out of a boy who totally deserves it at one point. She supports Sebastian coming out without trying to make him her purse dog, and takes down people who say stupid shit about him. She actually uses the words “you do you” at one point. Gabi talks loudly and repeatedly about a woman’s right to wear whatever she wants, say whatever she wants and do whatever she wants and how it’s total bullshit when there are different standards of behavior for boys/men and girls/women. When she decides to have sex she buys condoms, because she knows she shouldn’t depend on the guy to be ‘prepared.’ She doesn’t fancy the ladies herself but comments that there is nothing wrong with that. She accompanies a girl she doesn’t even like to get an abortion and supports her through it. She is my fucking hero. Oh if ONLY I had read this book when I was seventeen!

Ethnic Diversity

Gabi is Mexican American. A light skinned Mexican American. She talks about how people are always surprised that she speaks Spanish and how she gets sunburned super easily and how annoying it is to be whitewashed when she’s totally Mexican American. Have you ever seen the word “whitewashed” in a YA novel before? Because I really don’t think I have. A word used about YA novels, but not a girl pointing it out along with cultural appropriation and racism and being like ‘this is bullshit guys!’

Fat Girl

Gabi is fat. She describes herself as fat. She talks about food. A lot.(And really made me want to eat some tacos.) She admits to being an emotional eater, using food to deal with her feelings, but in a *shrug*-I-really-like-Girl-Scout-Cookies-okay? kind of way and not a this-is-a-traumatic-confession kind of way. There are people around her who hassle her about losing weight, but she maintains a pretty well balanced self esteem about it,

“Sometimes I don’t want to see myself naked. Sometimes the mirror is my enemy. I mean, I would never dare ask it who the fairest of them all is because I know the response would make me weep. But sometimes I feel okay about how I look and even think, I’d tap that, why not?”

Fuck yeah, Gabi!

Tangentially– she simply is the weight that she is. The book is not about getting fat or getting thin. It’s about a girl who, among many other traits, describes herself as fat. And is as much okay about it as any of us are about any one attribute of our bodies at any one time.

Life Sucks

Gabi’s world is real and has real problems. She isn’t limited to just one problem novel scenario. At first glance the list of things that touch her in a year may seem kind of like a lot: pregnant friend, another girl in school who gets an abortion, rape, drug addict for a father, gay best friend gets thrown out, dad dies, brother gets arrested. It’s a lot. Except in many teens life ALL these things DO happen. Teens lives are not a problem novel. Sometimes you barely have time to get over one shit storm before another hits.That’s what happens to Gabi and it’s so good for teens to see that.


Gabi has a few boyfriends, and, like, yay for a fat girl having more than one boyfriend!!! But Martin is clearly the winner. He respects her as a person, as a writer, and he DOESN’T EXPECT ANY COOKIES FOR THIS! He respects her body. And again, he just DOES and he doesn’t expect any props or rewards for being a decent fucking human being. He has condoms for them on prom night, but is clearly all about enthusiastic consent. He cares about her feelings and he loves her for who she is.

“No judgement here, Gabi. None. I love the person you are and wouldn’t want you to pretend to be something you’re not”


She writes some really awesome poetry. She compares love to a geranium rather than a rose. She deconstructs her father’s drug addiction. She analyzes why sometimes a grandparent dying after forgetting everyone is partly a relief. She also has the coolest teacher ever who encourages her to write about things — even things that she is not technically allowed to encourage Gabi to talk about because policy in public schools is dumb. She introduces them to Maya Angelou and Sandra Cisneros and ee cummings. When Gabi’s dad dies, she is the only one to address the elephant in the room.

 “She tells me to write about it, that writing helps…She breaks the school rules– and hugs me as I cry all the tears I’ve been trying to hold back at school.”

(No, YOU’RE crying at that line that brings back all the feelings you had as a former teacher in a rough area.)

Palabras en Español

Gabi is Mexican American, so it makes sense that she speaks Spanish, right? She talks about how her poetry teacher told them they could put Spanish words into a largely English poem and she was surprised. Likewise, the author has Gabi write sometimes in Spanish. Sometimes she recounts what people say to her, and sometimes it is her own commentary. Now, I’m not a Spanish speaker. I know just barely enough which, cobbled together with my opera singer Italian, gives insight to a few words. But even so, I never felt lost. Even so, I always understood what she was saying. And also it is very good for me as a privileged white person to have to look up a word or two, to have jokes that I’m not in on. ITS OKAY IF NOT EVERYTHING IS ABOUT WHITE AMERICAN CULTURE Y’ALL! And for a Spanish speaking teen– what a validation it must be to see both halves of your cultural identity so clearly represented.

In Summary

Gabi feels real. She is walking contradictions. She is emotions and hormones but also a careful and contemplative person. She is a fiercely loyal person. She is a generous and protective friend. She has a realistic view of the world while still believing that it can be wonderful.

I want to be her BFF. We can sit in my apartment writing poems and eating Girl Scout Cookies FOREVER!!


It’s Almost NaNoWriMo Time!

My boss ran the Chicago Marathon last week. Apparently she does this every year. I learned about this astounding feat of athleticism a day or two after the race, and told her how awesome I thought it was.

“Oh,” she said,” I run it in like 6 or 7 hours, though. Not very impressive.”

“But you finished!” I said, still amazed to learn this information.  “You ran a marathon! You ran 26 miles. I couldn’t run 26 blocks.”

“Oh, it’s not a big deal,” she said modestly.

But I was still floored. It IS a big deal. It doesn’t matter if she doesn’t make the cut for the Boston Marathon, or the Olympic team. She RUNS A FREAKING MARATHON!!! THAT IS BOTH A BIG DEAL AND IMPRESSIVE!

I’ve always wanted to run a marathon. Not because the act of running that much over that length of time necessarily seems super fun to me, but mostly because the act of completing a marathon seems utterly impossible.  And I like the idea of doing something impossible.


The other thing that has always seems utterly impossible to me is writing a novel.

And because I’m better at words than sprints, I’ve decided to conquer that one first.


I am going to write a novel.

I’m going to write the first draft of this novel in November for National Novel Writing Month. There is something terrifying about saying “I am writing a book.” The few times I have uttered this phrase I feel pretentious, ridiculous, like a total faker. I have a HUGE case of Impostor Syndrome.

I think this comes from my Scandinavian background. My rural (ish) midwestern mentality. Dar Williams said it perfectly when she sang:

 “Back where I come from we never mean to bother, we don’t like to make our passions other people’s concerns.” ~Iowa

And even while I encourage my teens to participate, while I support my friends with their own creative self-expression, there are these vampires in my head that say “you don’t have anything interesting to say,” “what makes you think anyone cares?” and, of course, “who do you think you are?”

The vampires in my head, the perfectionist in me, the ‘Go Big or Go Home’ mentality I have, the part of my brain that says ‘it’s no good playing if you can’t win’ tells me that that unless it makes the best seller list I’m just another loser who claims to have written a book.

However, the rest of my brain knows that the vampires are just telling me that because they’re scared. Scared of failing, and scared of succeeding.  And as Sara Bernicasa recently wrote, when things scare us we should just DO IT ANYWAY.

I agree.


It’s equally as impressive to me that my boss finished the Chicago marathon in 6 hours as it is when people finish it in 3.

It is equally as impressive to finish a manuscript of a novel that is never widely published as one that makes the best seller list.

And the only way to get better at things is to start doing them in the first place.

So I’m writing a book for NaNoWriMo.

A book about friendship. About performing. About failing. About succeeding.

Maybe it will be shit. But I’m going to write it anyway. And after November I’m going to rewrite it and rewrite it until it’s the best I can get it. Because WHY THE HELL NOT?

And maybe in there I’ll start running, a little, too.

I like the idea of being an Impossible Girl.




Why I don’t have internet at home

**I want to preface this by stating that I know the importance of regular access to internet for living in this modernize world. The digital divide is real and is a major problem and if I had a magic wand I would FIX THAT SHIT immediately. I am NOT saying that home internet access is a luxury for EVERYONE. For many, and especially for the working class and poor that can’t get access to the internet other places, home internet access is a NECESSITY. The point I am making is that I discovered that home internet access is not something I need to survive. Me, personally, and not anyone else. But that maybe others in a similar situation to mine don’t need it as much as they think they do.**

Now, don’t get me wrong.

I am a big fan of living in a world where I can google questions like “how big are Monopoly squares” and learn the answer immediately.

I am a big fan of paying minimal amounts of money for access to huge amounts of entertainment.

Oh, and there’s that other thing…

(you know)

But after moving into my new apartment and being in between paychecks and not having the money for all those start up costs and so just going without having high speed internet at home for a while… I discovered

I kind of like not having internet in my apartment.



Here’s the thing.

I spend between 2-6 hours a day sitting at a computer, depending on what day it is, how busy we are and how much non-computery stuff I have to do. And even then I have a lot of flexibility. So I can check Facebook every hour or so.  I can spend a while in the morning reading articles.  I can watch an episode of something over my lunch break.

(I will reiterate that I am aware how fortunate I am that this is the case. When I was waiting tables I had no time to do anything but run shit all over that damn restaurant. I am very lucky now.)

And when I have days off (because again I am fortunate to have days off) I can walk a few blocks to my local public library branch, or to the neighborhood cafe if I’m feeling fancy, and sit and watch OITNB or pay my bills through a handy bill payer thing on my bank website so it takes 3 minutes, or download books on my ereader or WHATEVER while I sip my white chocolate mocha with whipped cream (because, seriously if you’re going to get a drink that is pure calories and caffeine at least COMMIT to it amirite?).

And I have an iPhone (another luxury, I know) and so if I have the IRRESISTIBLE URGE at 3am to know why that witness on NCIS that I’m rewatching on the DVD’s I own bc I have a huge crush on Pauley Perrette  looks so familiar, I can IMDB it on my phone and satisfy my curiosity.

And I can check twitter to keep up with the latest time warp fuckery that is currently consuming our nation. (Seriously, did I accidentally get sent back to 1945?)

AND I’m not in school anymore and therefore don’t have homework. It’s impossible to do school without internet access anymore. For anyone. I swear Pre-Schoolers have online requirements.

So what am I really missing out on by not having internet in my apartment?

  1. A tiny bit of convenience
  2. A continuous stream of television

Seriously. That’s it.

For me. That’s it.

And it’s amazing the shit you can get done when you don’t spend 18 hours a day watching netflix and scrolling down tumblr and watching stupid Youtube videos or reading articles that you know will make you mad but what the fuck else do you have to do and the urge to click is just SO DAMN STRONG.

Seriously. It’s amazing.

I make my bed. I do yoga videos. (mental note, buy new yoga video.) I cook actual meals. I even occasionally BAKE y’all.



It’s crazy! I have all this time!

I read even more books than I used to. I started working on a cross stitch project I hadn’t touched in years. I’m learning more about photography. I take walks in the park. I

I just got a book on fonts from the library.

My journal and I are getting reacquainted.

And I’m starting to run again.

It’s amazing. Seriously. I had no idea how much time I spent falling down the rabbit hole of the internet until I had to go without it.

Now instead of getting sucked into clicking on everything, I walk into the library/coffee shop with a list of things I need to do: pay bills, order that book, google this question, email so and so. And when it’s done I go home. I’m much more focused now when I’m online, instead of jumping from one thing to another. (Unless it’s slow at work and I have 20 tabs open like right now)

Yeah sometimes I feel like I miss things, but if I don’t remember it the next day to look at it IT’S PROBABLY NOT THAT IMPORTANT!!!

So that’s #1.

And as for #2, it turns out that not having endless access to television is good for me. Emotionally. Spiritually. Grammatically.


Maybe this sounds like the weirdest thing ever, but when I watch a show for too long it really alters my mental state. Especially dramas– which is what I tend to watch most. I go to this melancholy ‘what does it all mean’ ‘nothing means anything’ ‘everything is SO DRAMATIC’ place and it can take me a while to snap out of it. When I get into a show I will ignore the entire rest of the world, and not in a ‘that’s kind of quirky’ way, in a ‘seriously kind of unhealthy way.’

I’m not saying tv is bad. I love tv. I am saying that I am a happier, more mentally stable person when I have limitations on my tv consumption. I am bad at limiting myself. I am bad at actually turning it off after 5 hours and going and doing something else. So only being able to watch 1 episode a few times during the week over my lunch break is good for me.

I have to DECIDE to watch a movie and what movie I want to watch, which is actually kind of refreshing alternative to the vastness of indecision I usually feel. And if I decide that I don’t to watch any movie enough to go down to the Redbox and get it, then I decide to do something else instead of spending 5 hours online looking for a movie to watch.

And instead of spending 2 hours finding that perfect gif I spend 20 minutes and CALL IT GOOD.

It’s this making a decision thing that is the biggest change. Instead of just taking the first thing that pops up on my screen I make conscious choices about how I spend my time.

The other thing is that being away from social media is actually really good for me. I love me some social media. I find it useful and interesting and amazing the way it connects people. But I can only be angry at the state of the world for so long before I just have to go gather some rosebuds while I may. I can only take so many reminders of the rape culture/patriarchy that we live in, so many frustrations at social injustice, so many voices tweeting in my ear before I have to get away and clear my head and remember that not EVERYTHING is going to hell in an actual handbasket.

Sometimes you gotta disconnect, y’all.

When I tell people that I am choosing not to have internet at home they look at me like


It’s actually a relief.

Turn off your internet, friends.

There IS life, it turns out, outside your apartment.

Go experience some of it.




Teens and Tough Love

I had to kick out my first teen last week (well, my first in this particular job). And not just for the day. From the Teen Space, pretty much forever. He’s allowed in the rest of the library and he can come in and check out books quickly and then leave, but he can’t hang out in the space during Teen hours and he can’t check out any of our equipment.

Because he stole something from us.

He actually stole something from a different YOUmedia site, but after two days of emails between myself and the other YOUmedia staff we concluded that since we are a network, consequences should be enforced network wide. And we don’t want kids to think that they can steal something from one site and then just start going to another with no consequences. It’s a privilege to have the tech we do and it needs to be treated accordingly. We need them to get that, and the vast majority of them do with no problems. But this one thought he could take advantage of us, and that just doesn’t fly.

I know it’s the right thing to do. But still, it was hard to sit down and tell him this.

Because he is, in general, a pretty good kid. He clearly has some issues going on at home. He’s super needy, and not good at interacting with other teens. And part of me wanted to give him a second chance. I want the teens to always know I have their back. But in this case, having his back meant making sure he understands that actions come with consequences.

And what made it harder was sitting him down and confronting him, watching him continue to try to lie to me. He didn’t get volatile, or violent or anything. But he kept lying to my face, even though I had proof of the truth. I can enforce rules and consequences, but I can’t make him learn that owning up to our mistakes is the best thing we can do. Some people never learn that… too many. I hope he isn’t one of them.

I work in an area where crime is almost a given, a way of life. These kids face violence, dodge gang recruiters, deal with home situations that I can barely imagine. And they’re teens, so they think they’re invincible.

Sometimes it’s my job to give second chances. To be understanding. To be forgiving. But sometimes its my job to say “this is the line, and when you cross it there are consequences you can’t talk your way out of.” Hopefully he won’t steal things anymore. Hopefully he’ll learn his lesson. Hopefully this behavior won’t escalate.


The hardest part about my job, the hardest part about working with teens, is letting them make their own mistakes and learn their own lessons. Better here, now, with me than somewhere and when with life altering repercussions. The hardest part is knowing why they do what they do and not being able to pour what I’ve learned into their heads. They have to learn it themselves.

My favorite Dumbledore quote is from The Order of the Pheonix, “Youth cannot know how age thinks and feels. But old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young.”

It’s because I understand, because I remember that I chose tp work with teens.

But that doesn’t always make it easy.

no one needs to know

Book Review: No One Needs to Know by Amanda Grace

no one needs to knowTitle: No One Needs to Know

Author: Amanda Grace

Expected publication: September 8th 2014 by Flux, 240 pages

Recommended if you like: Sarah Dessen, LGBTQ stories, twins, realistic fiction, non traditional love triangles

Rating: 3.75 out of 5 smuggled xanax pills

Mini Review: Sometimes the cliché of opposites attracting has more to do with differences in socioeconomic structure than in attitude, life goals or gender.

ARC provided through Netgalley


Olivia and her twin brother Joey have been BFFs their whole life. Their rich parents have never spent much time with them, and now that they’re old enough, they’ve been left basically alone in a fancy condo with an ocean view. They’ve only ever had each other (and a lot of money), and that’s always been enough. But now they’re juniors in high school and Olivia can feel Joey pulling away from her. New interests, new friends… they don’t seem to have anything in common anymore.

Until  Zoey.

Zoey is the girl from the other side of the tracks. She attends Olivia’s private all girls high school on scholarship and is mercilessly bullied by Olivia’s best friend. When the two girls are partnered together on a project, Zoey finds herself spending time with Olivia… and with Joey. Olivia doesn’t expect it to last—Joey’s flings never do—but just as Joey admits to deeper feelings for Zoey, Olivia starts to realize how much she cares for Zoey as well. Olivia must decide whose happiness is more important: her brother’s or her own.

The Good

Lesbians!! Who doesn’t like queer women falling in adorable love amirite? This is a good example of a coming out novel that’s not a coming out novel. The main conflict arises from Olivia’s not wanting to hurt her brother, not from self-loathing or angst about being queer. In fact there is almost no discussion of labels at all. Zoey and Olivia simply find themselves falling in love. And while we certainly need stories that explore the “coming out” journey because those stories are still TOTALLY RELEVANT it is also nice to see books where falling for a girl isn’t that big a deal.

Olivia’s best friend Ava is a bitch and it takes her a while, but Olivia finally stands up to her. How many of us – beautiful, smart, talented people—spent high school feeling like we weren’t quite worthy to hang out with someone in our friend circle? How many of us kept our mouth shut when our BFF said something mean about someone else? How many of us have had to break up with a toxic friend? Watching Olivia finally say “enough is enough” was super gratifying for the seventeen year old girl inside me who was too afraid to do that in high school.

The Great

This book does an excellent job of showing the stark divide between the haves and the have nots. Olivia has a new car; Zoey works double shifts at the local fast food joint to help her mom pay rent. Olivia has a beautiful condo; Zoey lives in a small, run down rental house. Also Zoey’s mom works hard. Yes its important to have books that spotlight the poor where drugs and/or abuse play a factor because it is so common (read Eleanor & Park if you haven’t for a brilliant example) but I love the presentation of life where there doesn’t have to be drug addiction or an abusive step-father in order for the poor family to be poor. They’re simply poor due to all the myriad of factors that make a significant portion of our country’s population poor. And they’re all honestly working as hard as they can to make better lives for themselves but ITS SO DAMN HARD.

Olivia isn’t inherently greedy or mean spirited, it’s just never occurred to her that not everyone has what she has. And because she’s a teenager that is not entirely her fault. The key thing about Olivia is that when it does occur to her that life has dealt her and Zoey different cards she starts to unpack her privilege rather than getting angry and defensive. I mean she does get a little defensive, but she gets over it.

Okay, I realize I’ve barely talked about the main plot of the story which is the love triangle when Olivia and Joey both fall for the same girl, but honestly that – while well written—was less interesting to me than the social justice stuff surrounding it… cuz I’m like that. But I will say that I loved Joey’s reaction when he finds out about Olivia and Joey. He’s not mad or shocked or betrayed. He doesn’t feel like less of a man because Zoey picked his sister over him. He’s just like “I love you and I want you to be happy and if you’ll be happy with her than… dude… go for it.”

The Mildly Trite

There is a bit of the cliché of the poor little rich girl whose parents don’t understand her, and while I am sure it is based in fact I feel this could have been handled more complexly. The thing that ALWAYS gets me is the epilogue where the couple is still together 2 years later. Moving into an apartment together and going to the same college. I know that a teen reader wants to imagine that happening and I know that optimistically happy endings are here for a reason I know I know I know. But seriously almost NO ONE stayed with their high school Significant Other. And that’s REALLY OKAY!! We grow and change as people. The end of high school isn’t the end of the journey– it’s just the beginning. I get it, that’s another book and stories have to have an ending I get it I really do. But that doesn’t stop me from rolling my eyes.


A good read and a good addition to the slowly growing collection of LGBTQ literature. I’d recommend it to any teen looking for a romancey book.


Book Review: Pantomime by Laura Lam




Title: Pantomime 

Author: Laura Lam

First Sentences: “’Well, boy,’ the ringmaster said, ‘What can you do?’

Publisher:  February 5th, 2013 by Strange Chemistry, 392 Pages

Rating: 5 out of 5 Magic Vestige Artifacts

Recommended if you like: “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern, realistic fantasy, Victorian era stories, Steampunk, magic, and if you ever wanted to run away and join the circus




*Warning, minor spoiler but it gets revealed about 100 pages in and it’s impossible to talk about this book without talking about this thing*

Gene was raised as a proper young lady in a wealthy family. With her brother/best friend by her side she climbed trees and scaffolding and behaved more like a boy than a girl.

Which makes sense, in a way, because Gene is both a boy and a girl- physically and emotionally. When Gene realizes his parents have plans for him that she wants no part of, she runs away and joins the circus. He LITERALLY RUNS AWAY AND JOINS THE CIRCUS. He takes on the name Micah Grey and begins to live as a boy, hiding the female parts of himself, both physically and metaphorically.

As the story unspools we learn more about Micah’s life as Gene, and what led him to her decision, as well as the mystical world Lam has flawlessly created. Micah trains to be a trapeze artist with beautiful Aenea and the aging Arik, and becomes tentative friends with the clown Drystan. Micah’s family is looking for him and it seems that other people may be looking for her too. Meanwhile strange events begin to persuade Micah that he is part of some bigger and mysterious chain of events which are, like everything else it seems, out of his control.

The Good, the Great and the Completely Awesome

I literally have nothing bad to say about this book, so everything goes in this one section.

Let’s start with the writing of an intersex character. An intersex character as protagonist. AN INTERSEX CHARACTER AS NARRATOR!

All the yes!!

Micah is wonderful. Flawed but brave. Utterly authentic. His identity — physical, mental, emotional and sexual- is an integral part of him and so is key to the story, but not used in any kind of “token” kind of way. He is so REAL. This is hard enough to do for any author, but to take something so misunderstood and make it feel completely normal once we start to see through Micah’s eyes is amazing.

It also leads to wonderful confusion as Micah is attracted to a boy, and later begins to fall in love with a woman. It gives him a secret to guard, though it isn’t his only one, and makes him special. But it’s also just who he is, as much as his love of heights and the stubbornness that serves him well. We learn that while Micah has been sheltered, homosexuality is not so uncommon in this world. Drystan and Arik both prefer men and the two female strippers of the circus , prefer each other.

The description of life in the circus is detailed but not boring, and makes me want to go join them in spite of the hardships described. To soar through the air! To know the magic behind the tricks! I mean, seriously, who didn’t at some point want to run off with the circus?

Pantomime also, a bit sneakily, shines a light on privilege and social inequality. Micah comes from a wealthy home where, as Gene, she wanted for nothing and then joins a group where most of the members have been poor their whole lives. As Micah becomes aware of politics, inequality and the reality of life for the poor it reminds us that our world is equally as unequal. As we get to know Drystan we see how his decisions have also been influenced by money and power.

The secondary characters are as intriguing as the main one. Drystan is shrouded in secrets. Aenea is sweet and wonderful but with her own share of mystery. I kept waiting for Micah’s brother, Cyril, to betray Micah because that is the “plot twist” used so often in books, but Cyril remains unwaveringly loyal– the kind of brother anyone would be lucky to have. Even Gene’s parent’s remain a bit sympathetic even though we are still mad at them for the plans they almost carried out against Gene’s will. Bil, the ringmaster of the circus, is terrifying and pitiful and the cruelly ambitious boss so many of us have had at least once in our lives.

And the magical world is one we just barely begin to understand. Micah encounters an artifact, one of many small pieces of technology called Vestige that were left by the Alders– an ancient and advanced race that, legend says, just picked up and left one day. The piece Micah finds is a hologram of a Human/Damselfly called a Chimaera. This hologram speaks to Micah, and no one else hears her words. More and more mystical things happen to and around Micah. Things he doesn’t understand and things that we don’t understand. It is clear that Lam is slowly cooking mysteries to be revealed later in the series.

The events that end the book are tragic and completely change the course Micah must take, and had me frantically downloading the sequel– unable to wait to find out what happens next.

In short put everything else away and read this book yesterday.