Thursday Thoughts: A reaction to the SLJ SummerTeen Transgender panel

Last Thursday, I “attended” the School Library Journal’s SummerTeen webinar/conference (attended is in quotations because I didn’t go anywhere and was comfortably seated in my children’s department workroom in front of a laptop), which featured so many amazing authors and panels packed with stimulating, challenging, and wonderful content. I really, really enjoyed it. The first panel I watched was called “THE TEEN TRANSGENDER EXPERIENCE” and featured Alex Gino (author of George), Susan Kuklin (author of a lot of books, including Beyond Magenta – which my coworker and I were so interested in, she went and pulled it off of our shelf while the connection went down for a minute), and Robin Talley (author of Lies We Tell Ourselves and the forthcoming What We Left Behind). The panel was inspiring and thought-provoking and I learned a lot while watching.

I’m personally a fan and advocate of ALL diverse books, particularly LGBTQIA+ books and books dealing with mental illnesses. I have many reasons for this, but they all boil down to the fact that we are all human and the more books about how wonderful and different the human race is the better. I think as humans we have an obligation to educate ourselves on the diversity of our fellow humans. I personally identify as cisgender and straight, but does that mean I shouldn’t read about people who identify differently? NO. For me, it means I should actually make time to read about and educate myself on the way other people identify themselves. I think you should always be learning with eyes and mind open to everything our world has to offer.

For example, I’ve been learning more about transgender and intersex youth in the past year, through reading about them in fiction (such as I.W. Gregorio’s None of the Above or Alex Gino’s George) but also through research online or in books from the library. But during the transgender youth panel during the SummerTeen conference, I learned something new. I didn’t know that some transgender or gender fluid people prefer to be referred to as “they/them” instead of “he/him” or “she/her”, which I found both fascinating and fitting.

I think this really plays into how our society must constantly place people into a certain category. In the panel, the authors discussed how it is comforting to have labels when you are discovering yourself and who you are, but it is also somewhat of a constraint because then you – or the author’s characters – must fit into that certain category. But what if that label doesn’t always fit for you?

This is why LGBTQIA+ literature (and diverse literature overall) is so important, especially for teens and younger kids. It lets these children know they are not alone, that it is OKAY to be different. I know this concept isn’t new and that a lot of people have been saying this, but I want to add my voice to that discussion. The more people who stand up and say “We want MORE”, the more publishers will see that these books are needed and supported.

I know there isn’t really a clear message in this post. I wasn’t really trying to say anything here (well, other than the fact that I think you should always be open-minded and constantly learning about the beautiful differences in the world around you). I really just wanted to talk about how wonderful this conference and this panel were. I’d love to start a discussion in the comments about what I’ve talked about. However, PLEASE try to be respectful and kind to other people. Ask questions, try to learn something new, but do not be purposefully mean or hurtful – I have no problem with deleting your comment. Like I said earlier, I try to constantly learn, so if you have something insightful to say, definitely comment. Also, if there are any books you’d recommend to me or anyone else trying to learn more about transgender, gender fluidity, or different sexualities, leave the title in the comments!

Top Ten Tuesday: Books that Celebrate Diversity

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the Broke and the Bookish. Today’s theme was:

Ten Books That Celebrate Diversity/Diverse Characters (example: features minority/religious minority, socioeconomic diversity, disabled MC,  neurotypical character, LGBTQ etc etc.)

I LOVE diverse books! I love people, full stop, and I’ve always loved getting to learn about people who were different from me. It keeps my mind open and my heart full. As such, this list is way over ten books. There was no way I could keep it at ten. However, I did try to keep it relatively short (It’s 15 books!) and all relatively recent releases.

Books with LGBTQIA+ themes:

Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera I'll Give You the Sun George by Alex Gino Everything Leads to You

Books about mental illnesses:

Made You Up by Francesca Zappia   Paperweight by Meg Haston   Where the Moon Isn't   Little Pretty Things by Lori Rader-Day

Books with religious themes:

Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu    The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes

Books with POC characters:

Ms. Marvel, volume 1   The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh   Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Here are some books that celebrate diversity that I can’t wait to read:

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed
Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz
Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older
The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds
The Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell
Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa

I could’ve gone on for days but I’ll stop there. I’m always open to book suggestions. Is there a diverse book you think I should read? Let me know!

Book Review: Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern

Say What You WillTitle: Say What You Will

Author: Cammie McGovern

Genre: YA, Contemporary

Publisher: HarperTeen

Publication Date:

Hardback: 343

Stand alone or series: Stand alone

How did I get this book: Borrowed from the library

Let’s start with a brief synopsis from Goodreads:

Born with cerebral palsy, Amy can’t walk without a walker, talk without a voice box, or even fully control her facial expressions. Plagued by obsessive-compulsive disorder, Matthew is consumed with repeated thoughts, neurotic rituals, and crippling fear. Both in desperate need of someone to help them reach out to the world, Amy and Matthew are more alike than either ever realized.

When Amy decides to hire student aides to help her in her senior year at Coral Hills High School, these two teens are thrust into each other’s lives. As they begin to spend time with each other, what started as a blossoming friendship eventually grows into something neither expected.

John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars meets Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park in this beautifully written, incredibly honest, and emotionally poignant novel. Cammie McGovern’s insightful young adult debut is a heartfelt and heartbreaking story about how we can all feel lost until we find someone who loves us because of our faults, not in spite of them.

What I thought:

I believe there are choices each of us makes every single day. We can dwell on our limitations or we can push ourselves past them. I have learned not to judge people by their limitations, but by the way they push past them.

I thought this book had a beautiful and extremely positive message. In that effect, I think it completely earns its comparisons to John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. The characters in Say What You Will, Amy and Matthew, are very authentic, in my opinion. Of course, I don’t know anyone with cerebral palsy, but I thought Amy, as well as how other characters acted around her, felt real and legit (and also sad).

I really liked the diversity in this book. I read to be exposed to things I haven’t had any experiences with. I love to learn about new things and there was a lot of learning in Say What You Will. I know some about OCD, but I was able to broaden my knowledge while reading about Matthew and his struggle with his disorder.

On the other hand, it was sometimes hard to feel what these characters felt. Yes, I learned more about what it is like to deal with these two very different disabilities, but I didn’t actually feel their reactions, etc. I do want to say that the writing is beautiful and feels really authentic, but it was just hard for me to actually empathize with the characters. Closer to the end of the novel, I was able to feel some of their emotions, but it took way too long for this in my opinion.

Something else I liked about the book were the formats McGovern used to deliver the story. We get texts, letters, IM messages, and my favorite: unsent draft emails. I liked all the different formats, but the unsent emails were my favorite because they provided insight into the characters feelings that we (okay, I) were unable to see earlier in the novel. These draft emails were definitely a better choice than diary entries.

Though I thought it was super shocking, the unexpected plot twist made these characters deal with their disabilities in a way they had never had to do previously, and I really appreciated McGovern’s use of this twist for that reason.

I do wish we could’ve gotten to know the other characters better. The focus was on Amy and Matthew too much and everyone else was pushed aside. The only other character we sort of got to know was Amy’s mother but only really through our main characters’ eyes.

In my first Quote Quoted post this week, I talked about one of my favorite quotes from this book. Here it is again:

Freakishness could happen to anyone at any time.

The message in this book was awesome: You don’t always know what is crippling someone. Just because they look fine on the outside, it doesn’t mean that they are okay. You should never assume and you shouldn’t be afraid of the unknown. I loved that. “It was all about acceptance, he thought. About realizing no one is perfect and no one can expect to change someone else.” Everyone has flaws and you shouldn’t judge someone on them.

The bottom line:

As you can probably tell, Say What You Will was kind of a roller coaster for me in terms of what I liked and what I didn’t like, but I would definitely recommend it. Especially to people looking for something different and unique or a book dealing with disabilities but full of acceptance.

Rating: 7 – pretty good

Reading Next: The Black Hour by Lori Rader-Day