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A Gigantic Book List for 2020

December 31, 2019

I haven’t written in quite awhile. I’ve certainly been reading, and I have lots of thoughts, but as one of my sisters told me: all your thoughts are kind of a bummer.

This is true, I suppose. It’s hard to have light posts when you’re writing about pretty heavy stuff. But there’s another reason: have you ever noticed that parents have a lot less to say when our kids are thriving? When things are tough, we have a lot to say: questions, comments, gripes, complaints… which is all just reaching for support in the end, isn’t it?

At least, that appears to be true for me. The early posts I wrote in part to help me wrangle with the stress of my life. When it began to calm the hell down, I got strangely quiet. (And if you know me you know that in person I’m not all that quiet.)

When I started this blog in the summer of 2018, it was the last thing I had time for. I was finishing up my MFA degree in Writing for Children and Young Adults at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. I was working on a final revision of my young adult novel, Little Jagged Edges, so that I could begin the hell that is the querying process — publishing’s terms for trying to snag an agent.

But foremost on my mind was my Teenager: I was in parenting hell. You likely need a refresher, so here’s the gist: that summer my family temporarily relocated from Boston to Philadelphia so Teenager could participate in an 8-week partial hospitalization program for children on the autism spectrum who had reached crisis proportions with their OCD. And we were indeed in crisis. All of us – because mental health affects entire families — entire communities.

YOU KNOW SOMEONE WHO IS SUFFERING…

EVEN IF THEY ARE ADEPT AT HIDING IT.

WE ALL DO.

I’m happy to report that Teenager is currently awesome. The OCD, Tourette’s/Asperger’s combo that threatened to break us all has been tamed, at least for right now. (Thank you Rogers Behavioral Health.) Tics and compulsions tends to pop up like weeds: you pull one up and another appears elsewhere, but for now, our garden is pretty tidy.

When my my boys are stable and happy (dare I say thriving? Too much? Let’s not jinx things), I often squander the bliss waiting for the other shoe to drop. Forgive the pessimism… you know, coping. But thus far, the other shoe has always fallen, and with three hospitalizations under the collective family belt, it seems safer to hold my breath and then be pleasantly surprised if no crisis ensues. Mental health is like that: it doesn’t go away. It’s a lifelong battle. You’ve got to be ready.

We all have our coping mechanisms; some are better than others.

Gracie

This summer and fall, instead of ranting in a blog, I tried to enjoy the relative peace at my house and used my energy help a friend, the brilliant, author A.S. King, who was one of my kick-ass advisors at VCFA (lucky me!). One of her coping strategies was to take on the overwhelming task of creating a long and comprehensive list of books chosen carefully to honor her daughter Gracie, who lost her own battle with mental illness and took her own life late last year. She was 15.

A.S. King, or Amy, as I know her, is amazing — as both a writer and as a kick-ass human. Her young adult and middle grade books are always smart, often wonderfully weird, and they never fail to be wholly original, something no one else could possibly write. She’s also a great public speaker and teacher who knows just when and how to kick her students’ butts. I speak from experience. I could gush about Amy more (seriously, just ask me), but this post isn’t really about her. It’s about her daughter.

Me and Amy at my graduation from VCFA, 2018

Through her unimaginable grief, Amy remained, as she’s always been, a tireless advocate for mental heath, writing astounding books that– and I’m not kidding here– make you a smarter and more thoughtful person just by reading them. Gracie’s death only made her yell louder, demanding to be heard.

After many months of work, Amy and Penny Kittle, librarian extraordinaire, recently published the book list they created. She was kind enough to give me credit for my help (Thanks Amy!). This list includes picture books, poetry, middle grade books, graphic novels, young adult books, and coverts both fiction and non-fiction titles. There are three categories, all of which represent topics that were important to Gracie:

  • Mental Health/ Powerful Emotional Content
  • LGBQTIA+ Equality, Understanding and Celebration
  • Social Justice and Activism

Gracie was, by all accounts, an extraordinary human. The world is less good without her. Her tragic and beautiful memorial service was quite literally a parade of people who loved her, telling stories that made us all laugh and cry and get a solid snapshot of who she was and what mattered to her. Through these stories I got to know her, just a little, and it’s my hope that her family got to hold onto pieces of her, for a few more fleeting hours. I wish I could have the opportunity to know her better.

But this post isn’t also just about Gracie. It’s not my place to talk about her or share her stories. Rather, I’m writing it to spread the list of books inspired by what was most important to her. These are books that need to be read, talked about, and shared.

From Amy and her family’s introduction to the book list:

“The books on this list represent the types of books Gracie liked to read. Some were her favorites. Some she never read. We like to think of the list as a library she would have wanted next to her when her friends came to talk, or when she was looking for a read to help her understand the world. They are hugs, even if their subject matter is difficult. They are “I love you” written on a sticky note, stuck on your locker. They are a safe ear to listen. They start conversations about things that are important to the inner-self and the outside world.

“Gracie’s teachers would tell you—conversations are what Gracie did best. A
friend of hers recently wrote, “She was the kind of kid who raised her hand
as an announcement rather than a question.” This list is our announcement
in honor of Gracie. We are raising our hand. Let us start the compassionate
conversations that need to be had in our changing and challenging world.

“Let us first open the books and locate the words.”

This list is long. Too long to replicate here, so instead there’s a link below. And it could have been much longer – there is simply no way to include every single title that matters. But it’s a great start. Take a look.

Please download it. Give it to educators, librarians, readers, and friends. Pass it on. Start talking.

VIEW THE FULL LIST HERE

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