Posted in Shattering Stigmas, Uncategorized

Q&A with Mia García, Author of “The Resolutions” and “Even If the Sky Falls”

Meeting an author when they’re a debut and then getting a chance to watch their career and advocacy within the community is one of the greatest joys of being in the book community. That’s why I’m so excited to welcome author of THE RESOLUTIONS and EVEN IF THE SKY FALLS, Mia García, to the blog today to talk about mental health. When I’m not grilling Mia about the mental health rep in her books, she is endlessly passionate about the environment and diverse latinx representation in kidlit. Keep up with her on her website, Instagram and Twitter. You can buy her latest book THE RESOLUTIONS from Indiebound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books a Million and Book Depository. You can buy her debut EVEN IF THE SKY FALLS from Indiebound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books a Million and Book Depository.

Taylor Tracy: One of the goals of Shattering Stigmas is to dismantle the stigma against mental illness by creating a safe space for people to discuss and raise awareness about mental health via their favorite mental health reads and personal experiences. What does mental health awareness mean to you and how does it intersect with your creative process?

Mia García: It means many things. It means being kinder to myself and understanding that there’s no such thing as perfect – that even in my personal mental health journey, I’ll never achieve perfect, and that is OK. It’s about being as honest as I can be with myself, my writing, and my characters; it’s about the imperfections and messiness of understanding and the fragility in opening up; it often means finding bits of myself in my characters, caring for them, imbuing them with the hope that doesn’t always come every day.

Hopefully, it means understanding myself better, and making connections, and, if possible letting others know that they are not alone.

Taylor: In The Resolutions, Jess has arguably the most “explicit” mental health representation in her arc. But Nora, Ryan and Lee all go through their own emotional struggles as well. Can you talk a bit about how you came to write the emotional issues that each character goes through and what it was like to bring them all together in a book that is also funny and sweet?

Mia: All four characters have little pieces of my present and past – they helped me examine my own current mental health and helped me look back into my past to realize I’ve been dealing with these feelings for a very long time, I simply didn’t have the language or knowledge to understand what was happening.

As you said, while Jess has the most explicit mental health rep, all four of the main MCs are working through strong emotional issues like familial guilt, fear, heart-break, and feelings of simply not being enough that I struggled through, and still am to this day.

Nora and I share a deep love for baking and family and I remember grappling with the fear of expectations versus my own desires. Ryan got my artist worries – that panic of not being good enough for your art, not worthy, it’s often crippling and hard to put aside. Though not Huntington’s Disease, my family has a long history with a certain chronic illness that I was diagnosed with two short years ago, I was able to explore some of my depression, fears, and hopes along with Lee.

And, of course, Jess, who echoes my long history with anxiety.

Now I feel like I need to apologize to my characters for giving them all my issues!!

I think in the end the humor and sweetness comes from my love for my characters – I genuinely want them to succeed – and the value that humor has as a medicine, a way to keep going, a way to analyze when the world feels too much. I find that often humor allows me the time to take the breath I can’t seem to take.

Taylor: Grief is something you wrote about in Even if the Sky Falls and The Resolutions. Can you talk a bit about what brings you back to discussing this issue in different ways in both books and do you plan to continue exploring it in your writing in the future?

Mia: I recently realized that grief and death are recurring subjects in everything I write – I’m not sure where the subject came from and I can only guess it is connected to the loss of all four of my grandparents, to whom I was close to in varying degrees and to my Puerto Rican heritage.

My abuelos helped raise me as both my parents worked full time, and I can’t think of a single childhood memory that they aren’t a part of directly or indirectly. When they passed we never stopped thinking of them, telling their stories, conversing with them as we cleaned the gravestones, or kept tokens from their lives in our homes, or on our bodies.

Their loss exists in this eternal space in my heart where they are forever alive and forever gone that is essentially the cornerstone of grief.

Taylor: What are some of your favorite examples of mental health representation from other Las Musas?

Mia: Excellent question!! The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante does a beautiful job of examining grief, guilt, love, and family and how it all bleeds together and impacts multiple characters’ mental health and the lengths we will go for family.

And NoNieqa Ramos’s The Truth Is examines a survivor’s mental health in a way that is heart-breaking, frenetic, and funny; it examines the process of grief and self at the intersections of race, sexuality, and pain.

Honestly, I recommend looking through all Las Musas books as there’s much to be said about seeing yourself represented in books and media in a positive light that does wonders for your sense of self and mental health.

Taylor: What are some of your other recommendations for great mental health representation, whether it’s in books, movies, TV, etc.?

Mia: Emily X.R. Pan’s The Astonishing Color of After is BEAUTIFUL and lyrical and wonderful and heartbreaking. I highly recommend it.

Taylor: Are there any mental health issues you wish were more widely represented in middle grade and YA, or issues you hope to write about but haven’t had the chance yet?

Mia: I don’t have a specific issue I’d like to see more, just more in general, along with intersections of cultural, sexual, and racial identities. I’d like to dig deeper into my own experiences with anxiety. I can look back into my memories all the way to the 1st grade and say with certainty I’ve been having anxiety attacks since then; I just couldn’t name it and to be honest, I don’t think I would’ve been believed if I could, so having more representation in general would be wonderful for the kids/teens reading and adults as well. How different would my journey be if I’d had help at that young age? Would I be better equipped now?

Taylor: Do you have any self-care tips, tricks or secrets you’d like to share, especially for writers?

Mia: It takes constant reminders to remember that this isn’t a race, to go at my own pace regardless of how slow I think I am; to not compare who got what deal and who is writing what; to take deep breaths and focus on the story you love.

If you’ve been having some bad moments, I recommend being silent with friends – which sounds weird – I know. About three years back I had a very dark period of time where I was having constant anxiety attacks and what helped the most was sitting next to someone, watching TV with a friend, or skyping with my sister while she did her daily stuff. I didn’t have to say anything, or do anything, they were just there, and often that helps.

M. García was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She moved to New York where she studied creative writing at The New School, worked in publishing, and lived under a pile of to-be-read books. She is the author of Even If the Sky Falls and The Resolutions from Katherine Tegen books (an imprint of HarperCollins). You can find her at http://www.mgarciawrites.com.

Posted in Shattering Stigmas, Uncategorized

De-Romanticizing Love and Mental Illness by Taylor Lien

Continuing in my tradition of bringing people back onto the blog for Shattering Stigmas, I’m so happy to bring back my name twin Taylor Lien to talk about mental health and relationships! You can find Taylor on her Twitter and YouTube Channel.

When I was in high school, I consumed many books about teenagers with mental illness. Those stories made me feel seen in a way that I was not being seen in my own life. The other thing they did was help me believe that I could be loved with a mental illness. Some of them even just for second made me believe that if I were in a romantic relationship than my mental illness didn’t matter anymore. Except, I knew that wasn’t true, I knew that being able to stand on my own was an important aspect of being able to love a partner the way they deserved. At twenty-one, almost six months ago, everything fell into place. I had spent four years single, and those years allowed me to heal and grow. I see now that was necessary in order to have a healthy relationship like the one I’m in now. 

That healthy relationship includes two people who struggle with mental illness. I would never sit here and say every day has been easy. There was a day this summer where I was crying on the floor near a panic attack and she was ready to take me to the hospital. After we had both calmed down and talked it through it all ended up okay, but I know there will be more days like that. Sometimes we have to change plans because one of us is too anxious to interact with other people, or she encourages me to go to something with her so I don’t isolate myself too much. 

The way we can feed into each other’s rhythms comes from three years of being friends and having spent a lot of time together in the six months we have been dating. Early on we had missteps and like that day this summer sometimes there were a lot of tears. I’m writing this post though to say that for me in my relationship, we’ve been making it work. It is not often like the books or the movies would make you believe, but it is a loving and fulfilling relationship nonetheless. 

Thanks to Tay for letting me be a part of this amazing blog series for a second time!

 Thanks, Taylor! What are some of your favorite books about people with mental health issues with positive representation of relationships?

Posted in Shattering Stigmas, Uncategorized

Welcome to Shattering Stigmas 5.0

Hello and welcome to the fifth year of a blogging event that’s all about coming together and speaking up to continue to break down the stigmas that surround mental illness and mental health treatment. I am so excited to share these next two weeks with you and hope it will be a productive opportunity to continue to think and rethink about how we conceptualize mental health in our own lives and in relation to those around us. Statistically, it is a guarantee that you know people who are struggling with their mental health. If you found your way here and you’re struggling, I see you and you matter. You can do this and I hope these posts, if nothing else, provide you with the sense that you are not alone. We are all in this together.

As usual, we have a stellar line-up in terms of hosts and posters. You can check up on the other posts from my amazing co-hosts Mari @ Musings of a Girl, Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight and Amber @ YA Indulgences. Please make sure to check out their blogs over the next two weeks for lists, Q&As, personal essays and more! This event is such a joy to run, and I’m so thankful for their company and ongoing support.

Posts will begin going up tomorrow and will be posted here as they go live for easier browsing. Please make sure to comment, share and support all of our amazing contributors. As always, thank you. To everyone. And let’s continue to fight the stigma.

Posted in Uncategorized

College? College! 10 YA Books About Applying to or Attending (or Not) College

Top Ten Tuesday is a book blog meme founded by The Broke and the Bookish and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. You can find out more information about TTT, including a list of past and future topics, here.

This week’s topic:

August 28: Back to School/Learning Freebie (in honor of school starting back up soon, come up with your own topic that fits the theme of school or learning! Books that take place at school/boarding school/during study abroad, books you read in school, textbooks you liked/didn’t like, non-fiction books you loved or want to read, etc.)

One of the biggest gaps in YA that I’ve noticed is a lack of books that are either set in college or are about the application/decision process to go to college. As a teen, as soon as you’re in high school, the stress around getting the grades to get into the college that you want, around knowing your friends might be living in different states and countries, around paying for college and around maybe not even wanting to go to college (which is TOTALLY okay and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise) looms large.

So why isn’t it more present in YA? Why aren’t there more stories about college students who are still dealing with crises of identity and friend drama, maybe for the first time or more so than high school, in YA? Those are questions I can’t really answer, but I can give y’all ten of my recent YA favorites that tackle college in some shape or form.

And for everyone that has already started college classes or will be starting shortly, good luck this semester! You got this!

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1. Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke

This snark-filled YA is about a girl who’s expelled from her high school and enrolls in a degree completion program at her local community college (while moonlighting as a psychology major to play on a student-run reality show to try and win a used car!)

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2. The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik by David Arnold

This flat-out weird YA is about Noah Oakman, a teen who initially plans to go to college closeby to his two friends, until he realized college might not be what he wants and his friends might deserve a different future than the ones they originally plan.

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3. The Foreseeable Future by Emily Adrian

This swoony YA romance about two teens who work in a retirement facility is especially awesome because it features a protagonist, Audrey, who falls in love with nursing during a summer job, challenging the future her professor parents have set for her at the local liberal arts college where they teach.

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 Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

This nerdy YA shows two teens who have been preparing their entire lives for the future they thought would make them successful and happy, only to discover that it might not be what they wanted…or needed at all. It’s a great friendship story about supporting the people you love and following your nerdy dreams no matter what.

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5. Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

This poignant YA is about Kiko, a girl who gets rejected from Prism, the art school of her dreams, and then tours west coast art schools with her childhood friend, Jamie. It’s a great story about opening up a window to find your dreams when one door slams shut.

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6. Roomies by Tara Altebrando and Sara Zarr

This dual-authored and dual-POV YA might be one of my all-time favorite books about college. Elizabeth and Lauren find out that they’re going to be college roommates and while they’ve never met, their summer email exchange forges a close friendship between the girls as they each deal with pre-college friend and family drama.

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7. The Seven Torments of Amy & Craig by Don Zolidis

This historical YA comedy set in the nineties (no, really, and it works) documents not only Amy and Craig’s seven breakups, but also Craig’s tumultuous college application process and his family’s inability to pay for his and his twin sister’s college tuition in the wake of factory layoffs in their small Wisconsin town.

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8. Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

This fun, fluffy YA and the follow-up to Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda explores the way that college decisions can complicate once-solid high school friendships.

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9. The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

This dark, poignant YA features a protagonist who’s the first person in his family to go to college and pursue his love of music, at the protest of his mother. It does a great job of showing the difficulties of wanting to go to college at the protest of family, which isn’t something often discussed, but equally important.

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10. Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King

This dark YA deals with college by showing a protagonist who doesn’t think she has a future totally skip applying to college and then having to watch all of her classmates get excited about college and the future, while her best friend who lives in an artist commune, didn’t finish high school. It’s a small detail, but one that informs the story in a fresh and innovative way.

These are some of my favorite YA reads set in and about college. What are some of yours?

Posted in Uncategorized

Kicking Off My Book Blog!

I’ve tried book blogging before. I’ve tried plain old blogging before. But I’ve never been able to get into the rhythm of posting. I had to do two blogs last semester for a class, one with my best friend on media censorship and my own on the Internet industry. Since I enjoyed it so much, I want to get back in the habit of blogging regularly.

On my blog, this is what you should expect (at least in the beginning):

  • Posts at least twice a week, at least one on Tuesday and one on Friday
  • Posts include book reviews, personal posts about reading and writing
  • Responses to interesting trends or news in the YA publishing industry
  • Fun blog-related things as I get up and running and start connecting with other bloggers

If you have any suggestions for things I should write about, questions, comments, whatever, just shoot me an email at: taylortracywrites@gmail.com.