Welcome to my blog about books and the classroom.
A teacher's opinions on YA literature and the state of public education in America.

Shift by Jennifer Bradbury

Chris and Win are best friends. Senior year is over, and before they move on—Win to Dartmouth, Chris to Georgia Tech—they manage to convince their parents to let them cycle from West Virginia, their home state, to Washington, where Win’s uncle waits to see them onto the Greyhound in Seattle for their return trip home. Win’s cold, millionaire parents are reluctant, so are Chris’s struggling-to-make-it folks; but, the boys promise they’ll be safe. They put their money together, scrupulously pack their gear, and then say their goodbyes. What they don’t realize when they set out is that this trip will also be their goodbye to each other.
The reader finds in chapter one that Win and Chris separated a hundred miles short of Seattle. What the reader doesn’t know is how they parted…and if Win is alive. Whatever happened between them was bad, bad enough for Chris to come home on the bus alone and start school in Georgia without even calling Win to check on him. Anger is all he feels when Abe Ward, an FBI agent, shows up to investigate Win’s disappearance. Chris tells them all he knows, including that they’d been 50 miles from Seattle, and Win’s uncle, when they parted. But why should Chris care? This was another one of Win’s jokes, a big elaborate prank to get attention and take his mind off of how badly his family life sucked. But when Abe Ward asks Chris about the money Win owed him, Chris suddenly realizes he has motive. Unless he can give the officer a lead as to his former best friend’s whereabouts, he’ll just look guiltier. And according to Abe, this is serious. Telling what he knows could be the difference between life and death for Win.
Chris, who can’t wrap his mind around the prospect that he’s dead, begins to trace their trail, recalling in flashbacks their funny and disturbing times. Suddenly, it clicks. If his friend is alive, he knows where he is. But why would he disappear? When Win’s dad—a CEO with more power than Chris ever realized—comes to the forefront with an extortion plan, Chris’ gut tells him to hide what he knows, even if it gets his own family in trouble. If this was the real Mr. Coggans, maybe Win had a legitimate reason to run away. Chris begins to doubt the “FBI” investigation, too, as the threats, espionage, manipulation, and harassment continue to get worse. He fights between anger and compassion as his theory for why Win left unfolds. Regardless of what Abe Ward tells him, Chris says quiet. But he can’t sit on what he knows. He has to know if Win is alive. With a bus ticket, a plan to throw his stalkers off-guard, and a single chance at finding his friend, Chris heads West one last time. And if Win is alive, it will take everything he has inside not to kill him anyway.
Not very often does an author so fully and so beautifully develop two characters, but by the end of SHIFT, both Win and Chris have changed and grown so much it’s as if they are both the
protagonists. This would give students the chance to find a theme from both these boys’ experiences, and then connect them at the end. It’s also just a great work for students to study an author’s structure—from present to flashbacks—and how it strengthens the plot and the reader’s intrigue. In short, this has New Standards written all over it (for those of you readers in states where the unified core will be taking place next year).
Furthermore, this is a book that illustrates the complicated lines of telling the truth, because let’s face it, sometimes the truth isn’t ours to tell. Every teenager has been there—to tell or not to tell?—and this book gives them a platform to discuss, or at least think about, what those lines are and when it’s absolutely necessary to cross them (for instance, when it’s legally required for information about abuse or possible suicide). Watching this progression of Chris as he struggles with a grudge, a natural desire to save his own skin, an unexplainable loyalty to a jerk of a friend, and a completely realistic coming-of-age journey teens get to watch a character make the right decisions about telling the truth, though it caused him more trouble.
This compelling read is full of all you want in a novel: humor, tragedy, suspense, compassion, heart-warming characters, and a realistic plot. SHIFT by Jennifer Bradbury is one of my favorite YA novels out there, and, according to mwa, it’s one every high schooler should read. I recommend it highly.

Update on SCARS challenge!

I just got off the phone with a lady from the Boone County Public Library, and Scars by Cheryl Rainfield is officially staying on the shelf! Woot woot! The press release hasn’t gone public yet, but this is straight from the source. Way to go, Kentucky, for saying “NO!” this time. Anyone want to join me in congratulating Cheryl Rainfield on her blog or Twitter?! @CherylRainfield

S.L.A.T.E. Intellectual Freedom Award

While I do plan to get back to posting reviews very soon, I wanted to share some pictures from the Kentucky Council for Teachers of English/ Language Arts conference this past weekend in Covington, Kentucky. I was elected to serve on the board for KCTE Thursday night and was given my award Friday morning. The above picture is very important to me, as I’m standing with Kentucky’s Commissioner of Education and the President of KCTE. But it gets better. Shortly before the morning presentation, I looked over to see Dr. Jim Blasingame (left), the 2010 President of ALAN and infamous champion of YA literature. Jim presented with me at the 2010 KCTE conference to help me spread light about YA in the classroom, and he liked Kentucky so much that he came back, and he even brought a friend! It was so exciting, and I think so many teachers found his book (below) and his presentations on YA literature and his new YA-Technology Consortium helpful and encouraging. The conference was so amazing that I left feeling lighter and 100% less like a liability.

Scars is Challenged in Kentucky

It brought back ugly feelings inside me when I received notification that Scars by Cheryl Rainfield had been challenged in my state. I hoped it wasn’t true, but alas, I just spoke with the friendly Youth Services director at the Boone County Public Library main branch in Burlington, Kentucky, in the greater Cincinnati area. This person informed me that a committee met tonight to discuss the book, and as of the moment, there is no verdict. I asked if the committee was deliberating to put a rating on the book or to ban it outright; sadly, I found it is the latter. I was given no date when the verdict would be released. However, in 2010 a different public Kentucky library demonstrated that books still are pulled from should-be-constitutionally-protected shelves. But why?
In my experience, books get banned not because people of intelligence are missing from the scene, but because people who oppose a book are loud. The opposition, either implicitly or explicitly, threatens to bring negative press to the local institution, so the safest decision for stakeholders to make–the decision that appears to protect children–is to remove the book. After all, kids will still get books like Scars at Barnes and Noble or Amazon. Right? Not in most cases. Kids who need that book may not have the means, or the awareness, to acquire it. (Read Cheryl Rainfield’s blog here.) That is why we must, without fail, support librarians and other stakeholders when they receive challenges that would remove books from the hands of kids. Granted, Scars isn’t for every reader. No book is. But we cannot forget the one, those few, that handful, who needs books like this. If a louder voice isn’t raised that would protect the intellectual rights–the guaranteed access and equity that libraries should represent–of teenagers, then we can expect to see more books banned in the future.
I’ve been there. I’ve seen how an issue like this can polarize a community to where even those who would like to speak out in favor of intellectual freedom don’t, so as not to appear dissident to the social/political/religious norm. But in Kentucky, and states all over America, we have to show those who would censor that they are not welcome to make decisions for everyone’s children, that while their intentions may be good–and they are–their actions embody the opposite.
If you care about this issue, please be in contact with the Boone County Public Library staff and reviewing committee. Peacefully and persistently let them know there are swarms of intellectual and compassionate humans out there that also want to protect children…all of them.
You can visit the Boone County Public Library website here. Or you may use the information below:
Boone County Public Library
1786 Burlington Pk.
Burlington, KY 41005

Interview with Cheryl Rainfield

Hi, Cheryl! I’m so glad to be hosting you at For the Love of Ya. I was compelled to read SCARS from the moment I saw that lovely, provocative, fraught-with-pain cover. All it took was the cover and the first chapter to hook me. I loved it, and I’m loving having you here. Speaking of, here we go!

1.) I was so impressed with your ability to make me feel Kendra’s need to cut. And this is the only book I’ve read that explores those emotions. I wish I would have read it years ago, when a student I had opened up to me about doing the same. It just helped me empathize rather than sympathize. I was both surprised and not surprised at the end of the narrative to find your personal experience with cutting. Surprised by your transparency. And not surprised because it felt so real and pressing in the narrative. Why was it so important for you to include this afterward in your book?

It was important for me to let people know I used self-harm to cope with the sexual abuse, because I wanted others who’ve also used self-harm to know they’re not alone, to have an actual person and face. There’s so much shame in our society about self-harm, and most people who use or have used self-harm have rarely *knowingly* met someone else who also has. I also wanted people to know that I wrote Scars from an insider perspective; I’ve read some books on self harm that felt distanced and unreal to me, or from a social worker point of view. I also hoped that my being open about my experiences with self-harm and sexual and ritual abuse would increase people’s compassion for others who’ve used self-harm, and perhaps increase the credibility of Kendra’s experience (so close to my own) as well, by knowing that there’s truth woven into the fiction. And, too, my abusers so frequently and strongly demanded that I not talk, that I still find myself needing to break the silence–for others, and for myself.

2.) I can only imagine how readers have identified with Kendra. What response have you gotten from readers?

Many readers say that they have never felt understood before, or not alone, until they read Scars. Quite a number have said that Scars made them go into therapy, stop using self-harm, or made them want to stop. The responses have been incredible–heartwarming, moving, and sometimes as raw as Scars is. I’ve welcomed them all.

3.) I’m a writer, and in the past I’ve been critiqued for having too many “issues” in the plot. However, you have done this flawlessly! (I’m jealous, btw). I’m wondering if you ever received similar caution from writing groups, agents, editors, etc. and how did you overcome it, if so?

Ha! I knew I was putting a lot of issues into Scars–self-harm, sexual abuse, and being lesbian. And sometimes I did get that feedback from writing critique groups. But I stuck to my gut, to what made sense to me, and to what I needed to write about, and I just worked harder at trying to put in enough breathing room and lightness to carry the reader through.

4.) When did you start working on this manuscript and how long did it take you to finish it?

It depends on what you mean by “finished.” I write my first drafts quickly, usually in 1-2 months. But then I edit and re-edit my work. I edited and rewrote Scars more than 40 times, and kept submitting it, over a ten-year period, before it was accepted for publication.

5.) What was your biggest challenge in writing Scars?

My biggest challenge in writing Scars was to put in enough lightness and places for the reader to breathe. I didn’t know happiness, not for most of my life–only abuse and the effects–pain, depression, despair, etc. And I lived, for years, on adrenaline and fear. So it was hard for me to write in “happy” for many drafts. But I needed to, to help the reader stay with the story. Writing a happy ending, though, was easy for me; I’ve had so much pain in my life, that I need those happy endings. But lightness mixed in with the pain throughout the story–that was much, much harder.

6.) What are writing next and when can we expect to see it?

I’ve just finished a paranormal fantasy, tentatively titled Teen Para, about a teen girl who can read minds in a society where she can be enslaved or even killed for that talent. She’s on the run for her life and her freedom. The manuscript I’m working on now, tentatively titled Stained, is about a teen with a port wine stain who has strong body image issues, and who is kidnapped. She must face and outwit her abuser, and in the process, learns to accept herself more. I usually put in fragments of the abuse and pain I know into my novels, as well as healing and hope.
I’m not sure when either will be published, but I will post information on my blog, Facebook, and Twitter when I know.

I also have a hi-lo (high interest, low vocabulary) fantasy for teens–Skinwalkers: Walking Both Sides–coming out this year from HIP Books. Walking Both Sides is about Claire, a teen girl who has both human and Skinwalker blood in her. Though she can’t change into deer form, the way her mother and grandmother could, she is reviled by many villagers for her heritage. Claire wants to bring peace to both sides. But can she?

If you’d like to see the cover, you can check it out on my blog:

7.) When and how did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I knew I needed to write and to create art from a very young age. Both were ways of safely expressing myself, of talking about the things I was not allowed to talk about, of reaching others–and myself. And books helped me survive my childhood. I think I’ve always been drawn to writing. I needed to write, and to be heard. I still do.

8.) Just curious, how many rejections did it take to finally get published? (I’m up to around 25…)

Many hundreds. I didn’t keep count.

9.) What kinds of books did you read growing up?

I read as much as I could get my hands on. I loved fiction the most–both realistic fiction, such as Judy Blume’s Blubber, and fantasy/magic such as Lois Duncan’s Down a Dark Hall, and Alexander Key’s The Forgotten Door. I also read and loved Dick Frances when I was a tween/teen, and books on abuse that I could relate to, including Torey L Hayden’s books.

10.) What is your favorite quote and why?

“When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.”
-Audre Lorde

That is one of my favorite quotes. I think it’s so important to speak our truths, to reach out to others. I have often been afraid in my life–but speaking out helps to make a positive difference, both for myself and for others.

“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”

This quote also speaks to me so strongly. I think women and girls, and survivors of abuse, especially, are taught not to value or love ourselves, but to give and give to others, to love and value others more. But we need our own love and compassion; without it, we hurt not only ourselves but others as well. It’s something I’m still learning; I had so much training to hate myself. It’s an important thing to hold on to–loving ourselves.

“This is my wish for you: Comfort on difficult days, smiles when sadness intrudes, rainbows to follow the clouds, laughter to kiss your lips, sunsets to warm your heart, hugs when spirits sag, beauty for your eyes to see, friendships to brighten your being, faith so that you can believe, confidence for when you doubt, courage to know yourself, patience to accept the truth, Love to complete your life.”

This is one of the quotes that makes me feel so good. Like comfort for each of us. I love it.

Bonus round:
Favorite dessert? Most things chocolate. Chocolate ice cream, rich moist brownies, chocolate cake. Lemon meringe pie. Only I now have to have mos things sugar free.

Six words of advice to your 16-year-old self: Believe in, love, and take care of yourself.

Ultimate vacation spot: Somewhere where all the people and animals I love are, where we can read, laugh, relax, play word games, be silly and joyful and, and have meals made for us. And preferably not somewhere cold. (smiling)

Again, Cheryl, I’m sooo glad you participated here at For the Love of YA. Thanks for your time! But most importantly, thanks for writing YA.

Thank you so much, Risha, for a thoughtful, in depth interview. I enjoyed it!