Structures of Suffering: Origins of Teen Violence and Suicide

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The University Branch of the Seattle Public Library in partnership with Interagency Academy’s UDYC site has been awarded a third grant from the Great Stories Club!

The teen services librarians at the downtown Central Library library have also been awarded the grant.

The theme of this series is Structures of Suffering: Origins of Teen Violence. We’ll be have a guest from a local agency presenting at each book club. Read on to learn more about the theme and the three books we’ll be discussing.

“The sexualized cyberbullying of teen girls, gun violence among young gang members, LGBTQ suicides, young people’s shrinking job prospects: recent conversations about topics like these have reignited longstanding concerns about the state of teenagers today and the standards to which society holds them. The three books in this series follow the stories of individual youth to explore some of the underlying systems, norms, and emotions that can lead to teens hurting themselves and others. Ned Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story (2006) and Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why (2007) each offer nuanced takes on anxiety, social isolation, and suicidal thoughts in contemporary America, while William Shakespeare’s tragedy Romeo and Juliet (1597; reimagined in graphic novel form in 2008) demonstrates how long people have been concerned about teen violence and suicide. In each case, the protagonists’ feelings and choices are shaped by the actions of others in their social circles and other factors outside their control. Using humor, introspection, and drama, these works ask: How is it that communities and interpersonal relationships are both essential to human self-knowledge, happiness, and ability to function, and can also cause such anxiety, danger, and even self-harm?”

“School shootings, bullying, teen suicide — it seems like you can’t turn on the TV or scroll through your Facebook feed without hearing about some form of teen violence. What’s the cause? It’s true that we all experience challenges like peer pressure, unrequited love and academic stress, but for some young people, these day-to-day anxieties are deepened by feelings of depression, insecurity or self-loathing, feelings that can increase isolation and lead to violence or suicide. Join the Great Stories Club to read and discuss the following three books about characters who are dealing with teen violence and suicide.”

13 book cover“Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker — his classmate and crush — who committed suicide two weeks earlier. On tape, Hannah explains that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out how he made the list. Through Hannah and Clay’s dual narratives, debut author Jay Asher weaves an intricate and heartrending story of confusion and desperation that will deeply affect teen readers.”

Funny_Story_frontIt’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini Like many ambitious New York City teenagers, Craig Gilner sees entry into Manhattan’s Executive Pre-Professional High School as the ticket to his future. Determined to succeed at life — which means getting into the right high school to get into the right college to get the right job — Craig studies night and day to ace the entrance exam, and does. That’s when things start to get crazy. At his new school, Craig realizes that he isn’t brilliant compared to the other kids; he’s just average, and maybe not even that. He soon sees his once-perfect future crumbling away. The stress becomes unbearable, and Craig stops eating and sleeping — until, one night, he nearly kills himself. Craig’s suicidal episode gets him checked into a mental hospital, where his new neighbors include a transsexual sex addict, a girl who has scarred her own face with scissors, and the self-elected President Armelio. There, isolated from the crushing pressures of school and friends, Craig is finally able to confront the sources of his anxiety. Ned Vizzini, who himself spent time in a psychiatric hospital, has created a remarkably moving tale about the sometimes unexpected road to happiness. For a novel about depression, it’s definitely a funny story.”

romeo“Romeo and Juliet (No Fear Shakespeare Graphic Novels) illustrated by Matt Weigle You may know the basics of Romeo and Juliet, but No Fear Shakespeare Graphic Novels brings the story to life in a new way. These dynamic visual adaptations are impossible to put down. Each of the titles is illustrated in its own unique style, but all are distinctively offbeat, slightly funky, and appealing to teen readers. The book features an illustrated cast of characters, a helpful plot summary, line-by-line translations of the original play, and illustrations that show the reader exactly what’s happening in each scene.”

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Feed: A Great Stories Club Discussion

feed cover

“Identity crises, consumerism, and star-crossed teenage love in a futuristic society where people connect to the Internet via feeds implanted in their brains.

For Titus and his friends, it started out like any ordinary trip to the moon – a chance to party during spring break and play with some stupid low-grav at the Ricochet Lounge. But that was before the crazy hacker caused all their feeds to malfunction, sending them to the hospital to lie around with nothing inside their heads for days. And it was before Titus met Violet, a beautiful, brainy teenage girl who has decided to fight the feed and its omnipresent ability to categorize human thoughts and desires. Following in the footsteps of George Orwell, Anthony Burgess, and Kurt Vonnegut Jr., M. T. Anderson has created a not-so-brave new world — and a smart, savage satire that has captivated readers with its view of an imagined future that veers unnervingly close to the here and now.”

Our last book discussion for the Great Stories Book Club: “Hack the Feed: Media, Resistance, Revolution” GSC theme was Feed by M.T. Anderson. This was probably one of the deepest discussions we’ve had all year, and it felt good to end on such a positive note.

feed group

Some of the members from our last meeting. Teacher, Kevin far left and me, Kristy on the far right.

We talked about the power corporations have over us through marketing. Students explored the kind of influence they believe that advertising has on them and strategies they use to fight it. The students debated whether or not they would have the feed implanted if they lived in a future society where the feed was the norm and was expected.

We ended book club by watching homemade trailers of Feed that were posted on YouTube, and we discussed how accurate they portrayed the book.

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Activism & The Hunger Games

On Thursday, April 21st, I met with the students of Interagency Academy Alternative High School (at UDYC) for our second official Great Stories Club meeting (in March we discussed X: A Novel, but it wasn’t an official GSC title). We read and discussed Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins which was one of the titles chosen in the “Hack the Feed: Media, Resistance, Revolution” GSC theme.


Angie Malorni who is a self-described ” community organizer and never-ending student of social justice.” was our guest presenter. She started off the discussion with a quote from Angela Davis:

“But it has been absolutely inspiring to watchangela davis1 the development of young activists. And I have to catch myself when I say the, you know, “youth movements” and “black youth movements.” I have to catch myself and recognize that these are the movements of our time. They’re not youth movements per se, because youth have always led radical movements. But it’s very exciting to live during this era. And as I’ve pointed out many times, I think it must be extremely exciting to be young now. But it’s also exciting for those of us who are older to see this promise that has emerged in such powerful ways for the first time since perhaps the ’60s and the ’70s.”

It was a great way to get students thinking and talking about how they themselves are the ones starting and maintaining social justice movements. Angie also introduced them to local young adult activist groups that students could join, some even have a stipend attached. A few of the students planned to look into these opportunities.

The groups included:
* Youth Undoing Institutional Racism (YUIR)
* Tyree Scott Freedom School
* Ending the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC)
* King County Youth Advisory Council
* Got Green
* REPSEA (Racial Equity Project Seattle)

For our book discussion, we tried to build on the content of March and X, as the themes of activism, resistance, and revolution tied all three of the books together. Angie led us in a thought-provoking conversation around the  intersections of oppression. I hope our discussion inspired the students to think about race and social justice activism and the impact that they could have and may already be having.

We also covered symbols of activism and resistance with the Hunger Games such as the 3-fingers salute. Katniss describes the 3-finger salute as “an old and rarely used gesture of our district, occasionally seen at funerals. It means thanks, it means admiration, it means good-bye to someone you love” (The Hunger Games, Book 1, pg. 24). At the reaping, Katniss volunteers to take Prim’s place in the games, and the crowd refuses to clap. They show Katniss the 3-finger salute instead.

We talked about how after Rue’s death, Katniss covered her body in flowers to show respect and that she was “not just a pawn in their games.”  I then showed the students the clip from the film where Katniss gave the 3-finger salute to the cameras, and the people of District 11 return the salute which sparked the uprising of District 11.

katniss hunger-games-district12-salute


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We read X: A Novel

In March, we read and discussed X: A Novel by by Ilyasah Shabazz & Kekla Magoon. Although this wasn’t a Great Stories Club selection, we decided to that it was fitting addition to the theme: “Hack the Feed: Media, Resistance, Revolution.”


X: A Novel details Malcolm X’s childhood and young adult years – who Malcolm X was before he was X.

We started the discussion off by providing some historical context for the time period of Malcolm X’s Life: 1925 – 1965. We talked about what life was like for black folks living in different parts of the country during the Jim Crow era into the Civil Rights Movement.

We debunked the common argument: “slavery was so long ago, get over yourself…” by talking about this graph and what it means for the African American experience.

slavery timeline

In the book, there’s a scene where Malcolm is on a date at a night club and was deeply affected by Billie Holiday’s powerful and moving song, “Strange Fruit.” We discussed the significance of the lyrics to the story and how and why they had such an impact on Malcolm.

I adapted a PowerPoint by the York Region District Schools (Ontario, Canada) to aid with our discussion of Malcolm X’s life.  The Life of Malcolm X – A PowerPoint Presentation

Students responded to their reading through art. Here are a couple of the their responses.

X tree hanging

malcom by an

We had a thought provoking discussion which reminded me of a previous book club discussion from a few months back when we read another book by Kekla Magoon, How it Went Down.

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Free eBooks and Downloadable Audio Books are Back!

sync logo

Do you love to listen to audiobooks?
Do you like FREE books?

SYNC is a free summer audiobook program for teens 13+ and readers of any age. The 2016 season is May 5th – August 17th 2016. SYNC will give
away 30 titles – two paired audiobook downloads a week!

Text syncya to 25827 to receive text alerts about all the featured titles

sync-poster-dates-2016-finalDownload Details

  • Downloads are in MP3 format and are Mac and Windows compatible.
  • Downloads will operate through the OverDrive app.
  • Most listening devices are supported.
  • Each SYNC audiobook is available for download for a period of 7 days (only).
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March: Book One – Comic Analysis

Local comic book artist Greg Stump, visited with our book club in January to discuss the graphic novel, March: Book One by Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin along with illustrator  Nate Powell. For more information on that book club meeting, check out this post.

Part of his presentation included analyzing the various illustrative techniques and how they were used to enrich the story, allowing readers to make powerful inferences based on visual cues. Stump’s commentary is included underneath each page from the book.


This is the opening page of the book and a good example of using a large scene/panel that dominates the page as a way of emphasizing the place/setting (in this case the bridge where the police confronted/attacked the activists). It’s always a sound strategy to emphasize the setting at the start of a story, and in this case it makes even more sense to do so because the detail imbued in the drawing makes it more vivid — it puts us there so we can feel more viscerally the significance of the moment. The fact that the first panel is borderless and “bleeds” towards the edges of the page adds to its standing apart from the panels that follow.


Lots of horizontal panels on this page also give a sense of place … e.g. the countryside, and its vast wide horizons, are complemented by the panels and their structure. the swooping diagonal lines help keep this layout from feeling static, since it’s a scene with some urgency (the bus is coming fast and Lewis needs to rush to catch it).


Here’s another example of form mirroring content, though in this case the orientation is vertical rather than horizontal. Similar to the first page, this city scene employs bleeds (here all the way off the page), as well as an unusual slanted perspective, to make it stand out from what has come before it, and to put us in the perspective of Lewis’ eyes … we see the startling bigness of the buildings just as he does partly because this scene is more immense than the scenes in the book that have preceded it.


There’s a visual rhythm here to the three panels arranged in a vertical sequence that seems to echo MLK’s speech patterns. Repetition of elements (the hand and forearm), structure (all panels are the same shape and size) and composition (the hand is in the same spot three times) makes the content/point striking and more emphatic, and that is amplified by the repetition of the four word phrases (“the evil of racism, the evil of poverty, the evil of war”).


This sequence, featuring the role-playing the activists do to prepare themselves for the abuse they’ll face in the course of their protests, is striking for the all-black background that surrounds the entire page, probably to emphasize and reinforce that they are exploring the “dark side” of humanity in taking on these roles.


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Book Discussion and Comic Presentation for March: Book One

On Thursday, January 21st, I met with Kevin Geloff’s English class at the Interagency Academy Alternative High School (at UDYC) for our first Great Stories Club meeting. It was a combination book discussion and comic drawing workshop with local comic book artist Greg Stump.

marchbookone_softcover_lgwe shall overcome

We discussed March: Book One, the first book in Representative John Lewis’s graphic novel memoir trilogy, co-written with his aide Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell. March is a critically acclaimed best-seller that received the 2013 Coretta Scott King Honor Book Award by the American Library Association among numerous other honors.

We had some great discussion around the effects of segregation and the Jim Crow laws in the 1940s – 1960s; non-violent resistance and protest in times of civic unrest; the parallels to today (we discussed Detroit Public Schools, the poisoning of Flint’s water, the Black lives Matter Movement, and more); and how the comic medium can be used to convey emotion and may make for a more powerful story.


Greg Stump did a brief “how to draw comics” tutorial and then he instructed the students in making “jam comics.” They folded a white piece of paper into four sections, drew in a panel, and then passed it to their neighbor to draw the next panel, and so on. The students had a blast. He also led a discussion with the students on the various illustrative techniques that the illustrator/artist of March used to evoke certain emotions and to convey various points and themes. So cool!

Check out some of the photos from our meeting:

This month (February), we’re celebrating our success with a field trip to the University Branch Library for a tour, library card signup, and to watch a movie!

We’ll resume book club on March 24th when we’ll be discussing X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon. In April we’ll discuss a Great Stories Club title, Hunger Games, and in May we’ll discuss another GSC title, Feed.


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book review/rave

***This post contains spoilers for Daughter of Smoke and Bone***

Love this German cover!

Love this German cover!

I’ve been meaning to post this “book rave” from an awesome teen, Mailina, for quite some time. I visited School of the Arts (SOTA) in Tacoma last December to booktalk to Mary Boone’s 12th grade class. Many of you know that I’m a big fan of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone (and the sequel Days of Blood and Starlight). So, I showed my video booktalk of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and continued to talk it up after the video played. I also passed around a copy of DOSB, while booktalked other books. Mailina approached after the class was over and asked if she could check out the book. I made plans to hold the book for her at the library, and she came for it immediately. A few days later, I received this amazing email from her.

Before you read it I have to say a few things:

  • I *love* how she uses the word, karou, for hope!!! True fan!fell in love
  • She mentions how long it’s been since she’s had time to read a book for pleasure. I see this all too often with high school students. When my former students (who left middle school as voracious readers) would pop in and visit me at the the middle school library, I would inevitably ask them about their reading life. They would lament the fact that they hadn’t read a book of choice in months, as they had no time. Instead they had homework, extracurricular activities, and assigned texts that seemed to turn them off from reading in general. How sad!
  • This book saved her. It never ceases to amaze me how powerful books can be and how they seem to find us at the exact time we need them the most.

Without further ado. here’s one of my favorite emails, ever! 

This. Book. Is. UNBELIEVABLE!!!!!

I couldn’t put it down. At first, I thought she could fix up a few parts but what wasn’t quite sure what they were, now I’m thinking maybe the absurdity of all the supernatural fights taking place before a crowd in public places, but now at the end I think I take that back and am totally pleased!!! Even if I didn’t take those “weak complaints” back, I still would have been all over this!!! Something about that beginning page I read when you were talking to us in class. What a blessing, right? That you would have happened to bring this to us during this time. It really has been a good thing, it came into my life just at the right time.

I couldn’t even handle, I stayed up til 3AM the night you gave me the read and continued to read it until tonight, (with breaks, of course. I would have definitely finished it before 10 if that weren’t the case).

But I was really obsessed. Well, am. Part of me wanted to take the time because I’m a bit nostalgic and didn’t want to finish something so good in such a quick time with nothing to follow it up, and as I neared the end I was all too aware of the dwindling in number of pages, BUT I HAD TO CONTINUE!!!

I absolutely love Karou and sincerely hope that Brimstone isn’t what we are told he is… SHE NEEDS TO HUG HIM!!! SHE NEEDS HIM IN HER LIFE!!! And Akiva, in all his glory, SLAYING all of Loramendi?! Too insane to be the end, I am SO glad you told me of the sequel before I found out on my own. I was able to ready myself for what was to come, and now I have hope-karou-that things will work out and the love that they have will bring them back TOGETHER!!! (Excuse the silliness of me referencing the book already, haha).


I can’t remember if I’ve ever been so ridiculously excited about a book. I think it may be because I can tell you how much I like it that I’m excited???? UNF. I can’t WAIT to see how this war pans out. I CAN’T WAIT TO READ THE NEXT ONE.

Oh, but the main reason for this message was to say THANK YOU!!!

Thank you SO much, Miss Kristy, for deciding to bring this novel to our class on Thursday and for making it a point to not forget to try and get it to me later that day. I haven’t sat down to read a book for pleasure in a long time and I’ve been so busy this year, but I just decided to push everything aside for the past day and a half and just FINISH it and by golly… I am SO incandescently happy that I did. (:

Have a good week and I’ll see you soon enough!!!

— Mailina

Swoon. This email made my day/week/month. Seriously! It makes me want to reread books one and two in preparation for book three… which isn’t currently scheduled to be released until April, 2014.

Le sigh.rbk-young-adult-laini-taylor-books-03-de

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For the Kids!

We thought it would be fun to highlight some of our favorite books from when we were growing up. We have so many fond memories associated with these titles. They give us the warm fuzzies!

What were some of your favorites stories as a child? Why have they stuck with you?

Kelly talks about Peter Pan

Korey talks about Guess How Much I Love You

Lilli talks about Mr. Brown Can Moo. Can You?

Andrew Talks about One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish

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Current Likes & Dislikes in YA

Name your 3 most recent YA favorites and 3 most recent dislikes. (Yes, please pick just 3. I know it’s hard!) You can add details if you want, or just list the books.

My favorites and dislikes are below. One caveat I want to mention about my dislikes is that I don’t necessarily think these books are terrible. They just aren’t my cup of tea, but that doesn’t stop me from recommending some of them to my teens that I know will enjoy them.

Top 3 Recent Dislikes


  1. Anna Dressed in Blood
  2. Bloody Chester
  3. Hold Me Closer Necromancer

Top 3 Recent Likes

  1. The Diviners
  2. Eleanor and Park
  3. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock

List your most recent favorites and dislikes in the comments!

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