The following selected works feature young women dealing with tough stuff, including sex trafficking, incarceration, and self-harm.
Up to 73 percent of juvenile justice cases involve girls who have histories of physical and sexual violence. Eighty percent of all girls in detention in 2011 were placed there for low-level offenses. Black girls make up only eight percent of the U.S. population of youth aged 10–17 yet constitute 39 percent of those detained. This is just some of the information documented in Richard Ross’s new book Girls in Justice (Image of Justice, 2015). The facts are brought to stark and full-color life through an array of superb photographs, matter-of-fact yet gut-wrenching stories of these young women, and six provocative essays by adults questioning the juvenile justice system.
At first glance, I thought there were too many white girls pictured, and it was jarring as to the facts documented and what I see everyday. But the vast majority of the girls featured in Ross’s title are young women of color, and what I might have read for white are actually Latinas. This accurately reflects the statistics on the individuals who populate our prisons. The book depicts, directly and indirectly, the intense discrimination that these girls face. Z.O., age 15, photographed on the back cover with Trust Nobody tattooed on her arm says: “I was just AWOL for a few days from my foster home. I was 11 when I was taken from my house. My mom was smoking crack and pregnant. My dad lives in Mexico. I was putting Wite-Out on a park bench and I was sitting there cutting class. They handcuffed me.” This text belongs in all libraries across the country for concrete insight into the reality of these girls’ lives.
Ross’s self-published Juvenile In Justice was recognized in the 2013 Alex Awards, sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA). I was there, and I screamed, I was so excited. It’s the perfect adult book for teens—deceptively simple and extremely powerful—multiple perspectives that support and build upon one another. Following the win, the Alex Awards committee added this to its eligibility requirements: “Titles that are self-published, published only in eBook format, and/or published from a publisher outside of the U.S. will not be considered eligible until the first year the book is available in print or distributed through a U.S. publishing house.” While I understand ALA’s point of view, this criterion perpetuates the lack of diversity that we find in our library bookshelves. It is so discouraging.
PBS and CNN featured Ross’s new book on their media outlets—none of these venues would think about not featuring a book because it’s self-published. Ross has several other books that we can look forward to reading next year: Juvie Talk: Unlocking the Language of Lockdown and Parent of Last Resort: Child Welfare in America (both Image of Justice).
Peggy Kern, best known for her excellent titles in the “Bluford High” series from the independent Townsend Pr., has a new book, Little Peach (HarperCollins, 2015). We know things aren’t working out well for 14-year-old ‘Chelle, as she’s narrating her story from a hospital bed. With broken teeth and swollen eyes, she can barely remember her name.Little Peach is the story of how she got to this point.
Told in flashbacks, starting with the death of her loving grandfather, then moving to her mom’s, and her drug addiction, ‘Chelle decides to follow her friend to the Pink Houses in New York and meets Devon at Grand Central Station. With a good size print and a low page count, this book will be a hit with reluctant readers. Is the book better since it’s been picked up by HarperCollins? Not at all, in fact the hardback format and innocuous cover is going to make it a harder sell, compared to the books she writes for Townsend, which does a terrific job marketing books featuring teens of color.
P.D. Workman’s self-published book Ruby landed a Top 10 spot on our In the Margins 2014 list. As an exciting footnote, the In the Margins committee is actively advocating with Ingram and Baker & Taylor to feature the self-published and independent titles we review, including Workman’s books. In her latest offering, Tattooed Teardrops (2014), Tamara wants to turn her life around after being released from juvie. But when her psychotic ex-cellmate Glock shows up, Tamara’s life spirals out of control. How can she convince her probation officer and foster family that she has changed? How does she escape the influence of the frightening and out-of-control Glock? Readers will appreciate the realistic details about Tamara’s release, her issues dealing with a foster family, her emotional triggers, and the challenges facing someone trying to maintain the conditions of parole. For those teens who love books where all that can go wrong does go wrong (isn’t that almost all of them?), this is a winner.
E.R. Frank, author and social worker and is back, and it’s been worth the wait. Like America (2002 S. & S.), Dime is a richly complex, psychological mystery with the right amount of interior and exterior action. Never preachy, the narration allows readers to gain their own insights through the extraordinary prose. Thirteen-year-old Dime has a problem. She has to write a note so that people will understand. Should she write the note as Brandy or Lollipop, two of the girls she lives with? Or should she write the note as if Money were talking, or Truth?
The note isn’t really the problem, even though she fixates on it. Lollipop, 10, is in the bedroom all day with her virtual fans. And soon the fans are going to be brought to her in real life. The real problem is that Dime didn’t think Daddy was someone who would put a naked 10-year-old girl in a room to earn money. She’s beginning to see more clearly and with the truth comes greater danger and an understanding of the consequences. This is some of the best writing I’ve seen that illuminates how girls are set up in complicated situations, and how love and abuse become confused in the minds of victims of sexual violence. Some teens may miss the literary references, but it won’t lessen the story’s power.
While clearly (from the cover) Tattooed Teardrops features a white protagonist, both Dime and Little Peach feature protagonists whose race is not specified. A pet peeve of mine is books where race is not specified, because the author is assuming the character is WHITE, where other characters that are NOT WHITE are described by their race. This is NOT the case in either of these books, where both Kern and Frank carefully created universal characters that all girls are going to be able to identify with.
My girls are picking up C. Desir’s books and loving them. In Bleed Like Me (S. & S., 2015), Amelia Gannon is a cutter. Her parents adopted three brothers orphaned in Guatemala five years before, and since then they have no time for her. The boys terrorize the family, and Amelia will do anything to escape. She meets Brooks, a hot, tough, former juvenile detention detainee who was once in in foster care (his father wanted to kill him and his mother is a meth head). Brooks makes Amelia feel loved, special, needed— but he’s also very possessive and wants to take her away from everything she knows so he can have her all to himself. There is no happy ending for either of them. Librarian Sabrina Carnesi says, “This is a very important piece due to the multi-layered dysfunctional relationships, which makes for a more authentic presentation. In real life, one experience does not lead to a 180 degree turnaround in behavioral patterns. It’s so obvious to readers that the lesson has not been learned and that IS the lesson. The issues raised in Bleed Like Me serve as a catalyst for critical discussions.”
DESIR, C. Bleed Like Me. S. & S./Simon Pulse. 2014. 288p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781442498907.
FRANK, E.R. Dime. S. & S./Atheneum. 2015. 336p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481431606.
KERN, Peggy. Little Peach. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. 2015. 208p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062266958.
ROSS, Richard.Girls In Justice. Image of Justice. 2015. 191p. Tr. $29.95. ISBN 9780985510619.
WORKMAN, P.D. Tattooed Teardrops. pdworkman. 2014. 294p. pap. $15.95. ISBN 9780993768750.