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#31DaysOfMHYA Day 3: Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes

Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, HarperTeen, 382 pp.

This book was a game changer for me. The novel is about Maguire, who believes she is unlucky and thus avoids any situation where she might put other people in danger. She undergoes cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help her confront the challenge of flying to Ireland for a family reunion and finds love, friendship and a new sense of life along the way.

Book Twitter is a series of garbage fires, but one that went around in the past year hit me particularly hard. Someone, I don’t know remember who and I don’t really care because they are a jerk as far I’m concerned, said that a mentally ill person could never be the MC in a Chosen One narrative because mentally ill people can’t even function in everyday life. So…yeah. That’s bullshit.

Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes isn’t a chosen one narrative, but it’s a book that falls into another category: the romantic comedy. Through Maguire and Jordy’s romance, Stokes shows that it’s possible for mentally ill (specifically anxious) teens to have healthy relationships and be the star in a romantic comedy. It’s a narrative about teens with mental illness that is ultimately more happy and hopeful than almost any book I’ve read.

I read Girl Against the Universe at a crossroads in my life. I was just beginning to confront the reality of my own mental illness and accept it. I was finding this community of like-minded people on Twitter and then I found this book and devoured it in one sitting. I NEEDED this book and instantly connected with it. It gave me hope about therapy and what therapy could do. This book helped me accept myself and laugh about it along the way. It will always be a book close to my heart. If you’re looking for a cute, therapy positive book about mental illness, this is it.

If you want to know more of my thoughts about Girl Against the Universe, you can read my post here.

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#31DaysOfMHYA Day 2: Libraries and Mental Health

CW: books with and discussions of eating disorders, suicide, self harm, depression and anxiety

Libraries, and more specifically the books on their shelves, have had a profoundly positive effect on my mental health. This isn’t to say that libraries were the magic bullet for me when I was growing up. I was the kid with perpetual late fees and I grew up in a small town, so going to the library inevitably meant running into someone who I didn’t want to see. However, the book’s inside them were magical.

I recognize that I’m privileged. I grew up in a small, predominantly white and affluent town in the New York City suburbs of Northern New Jersey. We had more resources and funding than most. It is my hope that one day all libraries will have the resources, facilities, funding, staffing and anything else they need to make sure that every child and teen that walks through their doors can find stories and programming that truly help them like my library did in the ways I am about to tell you guys.

I grew up in the library. When I was a child, our library was dark and small. I remember my favorite part being the chance to play with the foam bricks in the children’s area. I also loved the colorful books I could take out there. Taking out David McKee’s Elmer the Elephant books and reading them over and over again are still some of my fondest memories.

When I was around nine years old, they started renovating the library and when I was eleven, I was introduced to the brand new teen librarians Kate and Sandy (this was before middle grade was really a thing and YA was just starting to really explode). All of sudden, there was this new room of books in my world. Two people who seemed friendly enough to help me find the books I needed. A brand new room that was all for US…with couches, computers and a fish tank. I remember my first meet and greet with them when this was all happening. I was SO there for it.

I should also mention that around the same time, my grandfather passed away. I didn’t talk at all for a while after it happened so books became my world. Books didn’t need me to be normal or okay. They just needed me to read them (although I should mention as an aside, at the expense of dating myself, that I was also SUPER into Nintendogs on my new Nintendo DS at the same time). I also went through a crappy sexual assault when I was in seventh grade and guys, books that I read in the library literally saved my life.

It was there in the library (or my eighth grade classroom library which was equally important and funded by a grant my phenomenal teacher Ms. Ohle got but either way it still counts) that I began to fall in love with the writing of the YA authors I still love today. Laurie Halse Anderson. David Levithan. Libba Bray. Ned Vizzini. Stephen Chbosky. Sara Zarr. The library introduced me to ALL of them. I can still remember exactly where their books were in the shelves (I logged hundreds hours of community service in the library from middle school to high school so I was around the shelves A LOT. I folded a lot of pamphlets and shelved a lot of books, guys. My folding skills are still on point).

It was also in the library that I started to learn about mental health and other wellness issues. Kate always kept these really corny pamphlets on top of the new non-fiction cart that I actually read and brought home. The non-fiction books about sex and identify were in the YA room and it was a safe space. It was in that room that I started to develop the vocabulary to question my identity (I totally glossed over the few and far between parts about asexuality though, but it was there nonetheless, even if it didn’t quite sink in). It was also where I learned about mental health. I read Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson on that couch and I cried my eyes out. I read Sonja Sones’ books and cried my eyes out. I read I Don’t Want to Be Crazy by Samantha Schutz and cried my eyes out, even though it would be years still before I learned what anxiety actually was and another few beyond that before I walked into the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services in college and said, I quote, “Hi, I need help. Can you just give me the forms to fill out or whatever?”

I also found Ned Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story in that room. I found it because I went to the space between the last shelf and the window because I wanted to hide from everyone that day and I saw the cover on a display and instantly connected with it. It sounds so serendipitous but I swear it’s true. I brought that one home and devoured it after sitting on the floor and reading half right there and then. That book legitimately saved my life. I’d just stopped self harming and was very quickly spiraling. That book gave me hope and I only knew it existed because Kate the librarian made sure it was available and had it on display.

And here’s where I get to my real connection between libraries and mental health. Libraries, if run by kind, compassionate and open-minded librarians, can be a safe haven for teens to find themselves in books. For confused and mentally ill teens like I was this, this was crucial. The Internet is helpful too and so much more prevalent now than I was a teen to find books, but I still would have gone to the library to check them out or request them from another library.

As a librarian, you almost definitely do not know who all of your teen patrons are. I didn’t check out all of the books that I read. I would slink by the reference desk and into the YA room to read books while I waited for a ride. Some of them I was too paranoid to bring home. But the point is, please be open minded. You don’t know whose life you might be affecting by what books you select. Please be committed to ensuring that, within the resources you have available, there are a wide variety of diverse voices for teen readers to find themselves and learn about and empathize with others. About neurodiverse teens. About queer teens. About disabled teens. About teens of color. About teens of all cultures.

Posted in Books

#31DaysOfMHYA Day 1: Intro and Kickoff

Today is the first day of Mental Health Awareness Month. I have decided to dedicate this month to recognizing works of young adult literature touching upon themes of mental health with which I connected and discussing themes, topics and concerns I have about the representation of mental health and illness in young adult lit.

To give an overview, this is what the month will look like:

  • Posts about individual works that made me think about mental health in new ways or that I connected to for a specific reason
  • Posts about debates about mental health rep in young adult lit and what I hope to see more of in the future
  • Posts about authors that I’ve read multiple books of where they touch upon mental health
  • Topical posts about specific mental health issues in young adult

Now, for the disclaimers: I know that not all of you are going to agree with the books I’ve selected, and that’s okay. I’m coming at this topic from my own experiences and difficulties with mental health. These experiences will probably not reflect yours. I’m also not necessarily recommending any of the books I’m discussing. I’m just spotlighting them for helping me through a tough time.

If you want to do the same thing on your blog, just be sure to tag your posts #31DaysOfMHYA. I hope you all will join me on this emotional journey.

Note: #31DaysOfMHYA is on hiatus May 4-May 14 in light of self care to deal with the news and my college graduation. I’ll be posting soon. 🙂