Binge, by Tyler Oakley

I’ve admired Tyler Oakley ever since the first Trevor Live and then began following his tweets and YouTube. I became a genuine fan-girl (for lack of a better word) because of his strong voice in advocating for LGBTQ equality and social rights, especially pertaining to youths, as well as other social issues like health care, education, and suicide prevention.

A big deal to me: at one point, he @replied his opinion that he was “confused and disappointed” by something Liam from One Direction had tweeted. As an invested fan of theirs, he was genuinely heartbroken at the thought that one of his idols could be homophobic. I think it took a lot of courage for him to put his truth out there like that. Many fans of the band, even some of his own fans, were furious, attacking Tyler, on social media and on the road, verbally, physically and even went as far as death threats. His loyal followers stayed around but he also lost a lot. But he stood behind his belief.

In this very candid memoir, the story of his life begins at the very beginning; the readers find out that Tyler is not his real name, it’s Mathew. His style is straight and honest and I enjoyed how it felt as if he were speaking directly to me; as if, even though I was only one of many, I was part of some chosen group that gets to know all the secrets. He speaks very frankly about sex (his partners and desires), but not in graphic detail, his drinking/drug use, his bodily functions, which includes very honest and humbling confessions about eating disorders (there’s a lot of poop talk) and feelings of depression, shame and self-loathing.

The story goes through details about his childhood, pre-adolescent, adulthood, and to present day. He discusses, seriously, his self-image distortion, how he’s addicted to control, what it’s like growing up poor (discount lunches and hand-me-downs), his anxiety surrounding birthdays, holidays and families, his many jobs and how they shaped his personality, his broken home life, his father’s homophobia, his place in the political climate, and details of an abusive romantic relationship.

Mixed in are lighthearted, funny subjects such as his feelings about certain Disney princes (top 10), his dreams of Darren Criss (one of my favorites as well), pot brownies, his blurple glasses, psycho babble, why they called him the granny whisperer, and details of his many theater performances from elementary to high school (his favorite was The importance of being Ernest). His words are deliberate and frank as he explains how a choir teacher saved him, how he came upon YouTube and becoming an international sensation, and so much more. If you want to know EVERYTHING, you’ll have to read it to find out.

What I believe is his theme? Embrace the flaws, find balance in the chaos. His binges sometimes happened for good, sometimes not, but he certainly affirms that he doesn’t regret any of his experiences.

I found his strong work ethic impressive, especially given that he found that, even though he’s constantly among literally millions of people, he feels that his is a solitary profession. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the many facets of the man that is Tyler Oakley. Getting somewhat inside his mind on a more personal level, what do they say, I laughed, I cried? Yes, all of that. And I felt a lot of the same emotions as he did growing up and even in his adult life. I applaud his sincerity and openness. Ironically, he never thought he had anything important to say. In my honest opinion, a must read.

Doing It, by Melvin Burgess

I imagine this book will almost always be challenged for its controversial content. But it will also always be read. The story uses alternating viewpoints, and even though it is often crude, it’s pretty entertaining and blatantly honest. The story revolves around three high school boys in different romantic involvements but they all have one thing in common, their desire to be “doing it”.  The language is explicit and frank, I guess to some it will be shocking, but it gave a voice to a topic not really discussed/ spoken about truthfully or straightforwardly. The main characters are Dino and his two best friends, Jonathan and Ben. Dino, who’s dating the best-looking girl in the school, cheats on her because he can’t get want he wants from her. Jonathon really wants to date Deborah, but she’s overweight and his superficial insecurity worries what the other guys will say. And Ben, well he’s living out what he thinks is a teenage fantasy with his hot drama teacher, but is in trouble when he realizes that he’s in over his head and can’t get out. We, as the readers, get to follow along with their sexual adventures. The story is told during one scholastic year and during this time, the boys think about, talk about, and just keep wishing they can have sex. It is graphic in many parts, but, in my opinion, rings completely true coming from the mouths and minds of teenage boys. There were many times when the narrative made me laugh. I enjoyed getting into the minds of these characters.

Teen Addiction

Drug dependency and addiction is often seen as taboo. Most YA books won’t simply address meth addiction in such a straightforward manner. Specifics and/or graphic details are NOT generally commonplace. Crank, by Ellen Hopkins tells the story of a teenage crystal meth addict. It is raw and honest and filled with desperation. It is often challenged for its inclusion of drugs, offensive language and sexually explicit content; this character, and others in like-minded books, are self-destructive, lack self-worth, sometimes prostituting themselves for the drug, and in the case of Crank, is also raped. This, and other novels like it, are important. Teens and adults alike can learn from stories of this magnitude. Media of all kinds enable the reader/viewer to understand perspective that they wouldn’t ordinarily be in contact with. Teens should not be underestimated in their quest for understanding.

Ellen Hopkins, Crank, New York : Simon Pulse, 2004.  978-1442471818

Told with frankness, Crank is a brutal portrayal of teenage addiction. The story begins with the “good, sensible girl going to stay with her father during a court appointed summer visit. Her father is a drug addict, and soon, so is she. She falls in love with a drug user, in big part due to her own feelings of inadequacy. She often writes of her imperfection and worthlessness. The main character is the storyteller; I really felt like she was someone I may have known in my teen years.  Before Kristina was Bree, she was a somewhat average, overachiever. As her alter ego emerges, she seems more confident and strong, but in a crazy, believable narrative, the vulnerability leads to drug use. This brave and bold Bree let’s herself do self-destructive things with no regard to her well being. The meth is the boss and she becomes a drug addict, an abuser, a victim, a liar, a thief, raped, pregnant and strung out. And each moment is told in shocking detail. The story is told through a series of poems which flows easily with each painstaking detail. The story is let open ended, questioning whether the main character can stay clean or not

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Nick Sheff, Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines. Atheneum Books for Young Readers; Reprint edition (January 6, 2009). 978-1416972198

Tweak is an amazing tale of the author’s meth addiction. I was surprised at how the writing style was so open, honest and straightforward considering it was a memoir. It was heart-wrenching as well as eye-opening. We follow along with him in his stealing, being deceitful, and his never ending need for more drugs, he prostitutes himself, and breaks my heart when he takes money from his little brother’s piggy bank. But I also learn about his relationships, love, and his belief in a higher power. I think the story is relatable because everyone feels those sorts of insecurities and experiences their own trials of life. He always felt he would be able to quit. We learn at the start of the story that he has relapsed after being 18 months sober. Through it all, it is a harrowing story of ups and downs, 12 steps and successes and failures. But I sort of always wanted to believe in him, even when I was hating him.

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Anonymous, Go Ask Alice. Simon Pulse; Reprint edition (January 1, 2006). 978-1416914631

Go Ask Alice is a classic. I remember reading it as an 8th grader and it blew me away! It scared me pretty good too, she was totally relatable. It is the story of a teenage drug addict who eventually dies from her habit by novels end. It is told in diary form and in great detail, exemplifies the drug life.  Alice spells out her feelings, all her hopes, concerns and fears and it is directly correlated with her use of narcotics. It is intense and sort of acts as an advisory. The title is one of the most frequently challenged books for the last several decades because of its profanity and explicit sex and rape scenes as well as drugs depictions. It’s a timeless story, from 1971, but is still so current. It’s an international bestseller and I imagine there isn’t anyone who doesn’t know about this book. Controversy emerged about the author, and/or the fact that it may not be a true story; but it my opinion, it is still a must read, whatever the origin.

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John Green, Looking for Alaska. Dutton Books (March 3, 2005). 978-0525475064

Looking for Alaska is a bit different because we’re being told of the addiction from the observer’s point of view. Also, the tale of addiction is not even close to being deeply detailed as the others, but I still wanted to include this because addiction comes in many shapes and sizes. Our protagonist in the story is Miles, he is in love with (or at least in lust) Alaska Young, a girl he’s just met at his new boarding school. Though she sort of flirts with him and has taken particular interest, she keeps their relationship platonic. Alaska is wild and free and mysterious. While we find out that she feels responsible for her mother’s death that occurred when she was very young, we never do actually know much detail about her personally other than that she is reckless and apparently an alcoholic. Miles (Pudge) takes on, as his responsibility, her well being and throughout the entire novel, tries to save her. I always got the feeling she was abusing more than just alcohol, regardless, it was no secret that she intended to be free, and in her thoughts, the realities of life were holding her back. I enjoyed the labyrinth references and the last quotes. It dealt a lot with the characters perception of expectations and realities.

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Ellen Hopkins, Fallout. Margaret K. McElderry Books (September 14, 2010). 978-1442471801

In Fallout, we meet the children of Kristina (Bree) from Crank. The story is of their lives and how the addiction of their mother shape and continues to disrupt their lives. Fallout is the last book in the the trilogy. In this conclusion, the author is trying to show how a young adult’s actions are not only directly effecting themselves but also her family in the future. The novel is centered basically on the three oldest of her children, Hunter, Autumn, and Summer. The two youngest Donald and David are not as visibly depicted as the narrative is about the three older teens and their journey to adulthood.  This one takes a whole new look at Kristina, through the eyes of her children. Even though she is hardly in here, the reader knows the havoc it has caused and the damage to the maturing identity of her children. Drugs, rape, abuse, a predisposition for addiction, the feelings of abandonment; these themes are all explored. These themes, unforgettable scenarios, will leave an indelible impression; one will never want to be in any of the portrayed situations. And I believe that’s just what the author intended.

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 Jacqueline Woodson, Beneath a Meth Moon. Speak : New York (February 7, 2013). 978-0142423929

This story really stressed the fact that addiction results from other problems. The main character is a happy, popular cheerleader when her world crumbles. I was caught up in the references to Hurricane Katrina, which is how she lost her mother, grandmother and home. I felt for her hopelessness and her desire to feel better at any cost. And although this story is told as very dark, since it is written inside the mind of the main character in consciousness of before and after, it does not have so much violently disturbing plot twists as some of the more explicit novels. The author also eloquently includes an in depth portrayal of homelessness and of  how society treats those that are homeless. Her words of desperation really stayed with me even after I finished reading.

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Brent Lewiki, Crystal Meth Addiction: An Essential Guide to Understanding Meth Addiction and Helping a Crystal Meth Addict Before It’s Too Late. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (April 6, 2015).  978-1532752926

This reads more of an instructional manual. The author provides a good overview of the addict themselves and the addition. Also, how to recognize the drug itself. It would be very helpful to understand the mind and thought processes of a meth addict. Detailing the warning signs, symptoms and successful treatment methods. Providing a non-judgmental account of some things that may be a precursor to addiction, and the best way to help a user in different scenarios, even in case of overdose. Very straight forward account. I liked how it was stressed that knowledge and continuing education is the best way to try to combat the abuse of methamphetamine.

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Steven J. Lee, Overcoming Crystal Meth Addiction: An Essential Guide to Getting Clean. Da Capo Press (September 4, 2006). 978-1569243138

The author is a psychiatrist who specializes in crystal meth addiction, and uses an extensive body of work consisting of both scientific and social research. The book covers the history of the drug and the disease, describes in detail the devastation it causes, and provides information about how not only the addict, but also their loved ones, are effected. This book also reads like an instructional manual. The book describes different types of meth and different types of addicts. The author uses a lot of evidence based data to back up what is being said. There is illustrations of chemical compounds and in depth descriptions of how the drug is effecting different parts of the body. I liked that it was scientific and yet didn’t have a “one size fits all” kind of solution, and gave different, personalized scenarios. Without c, this reads like a guide book to understanding, confronting and recovering from addiction.

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Video and Film Media:

PBS Frontline: The Meth Epidemic

[Arlington, VA] : Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), 2011.

Eye opening and extremely informative account of the meth epidemic.  It is approximately an hour long, investigative report which includes examining existing laws, actual police reports and information on abusers (booking photos) and state statistics. They’ve centered this project in Oregon, due to it’s having the highest usage. They discuss different ways that dealers create the drug (meth cooks), the dangers of producing it, the evolution of it, the ups and owns of usage and how it is correlated to the pharmaceutical companies. But mostly, the documentary focuses on the destruction of meth use, on people (especially kids), on communities, the impact on crime, and tries to act as a warning to the rest of the United States. Very critical of the DEA, and the money makers.  Every one who wants to know about “super-smurfing” or “shake’n’bake” should watch this. I believe everyone should watch this.

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Christiane F – Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo (english subbed)

Chatsworth, CA : Image Entertainment, [©2001]

This film was adapted from the book of the same name. It is about the teenage heroin scene but specifically, about Christiane, the young addict who is just 14 years old. It is explicit and haunting and dark. I really enjoyed the music, the soundtrack is by David Bowie who I have always admired. Besides that, I found the subtitles were a little distracting so I preferred the action with music as the backdrop. The imagery accompaniment was perfect. It really disturbed me to see such YOUNG, barely teenagers in this story. The main character began abusing at age 12. Set in West Berlin, it chronicles, through Christiane’s eyes, every disgusting toilet, every gross action in her prostituting herself for drug money, every moment of panic, terror and sheer desperation. Vivid scenes of death, needles, vomiting and prostitution were shocking and compelling, and so very genuine in the telling of this teens true life story.

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Some articles about the book and it’s impact:

Time: Texas: If You Can’t Ban Books, Ban Authors

A small town in Houston, which yearly hosts a successful, popular children’s’ and teens’ literature festival canceled the event and it all began because of content. It was due to a group of parents, a school superintendent and librarian who, after they were informed that Hopkins would be speaking, sparked a series events that not only banned her book, but banned her personally, altogether. Because she had spoken locally and her literatue is available in the community libraries, she was surprised. She reached out to one of the other authors scheduled to appear and one thing led to another, and many of them withdrew in solidarity of the cause. “We must maintain a unified voice against the idea that one person, or even a few, has the right to decide for everyone else what they are allowed to read, or what information they can have access to.” Several national organizations came to her defense including the National Coalition Against Censorship, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the National Council of Teachers of English who all wrote letters of protest.

Banned Books Week 2010: An Anti-Censorship Manifesto

In her own words, Ellen Hopkins speaks about her books and her manifesto against censorship, especially as it pertains to teen reading. It is in direct response to the situation detailed in the previous article. The author begins describing an occurrence that happened at a speaking engagement, about how a woman stayed after and explained how the novel “Crank” saved her life, and then states that this isn’t an isolated incident. She describes her work as “tough subject matter – addiction, abuse, thoughts of suicide, teen prostitution”. In the article, she describes instances of censorship, particularly with TeenLit Festivals. She encourages young adults and society at large to fight against censorship. The end of the piece includes her “Manifesto”.

Publishers Weekly: Children’s Bookshelf Talks with Ellen Hopkins

A dialogue interview between Kate Pavao and Ellen Hopkins, wherein they discuss how she began writing, her motivation behind Crank, and thoughts about her new book, Glass and how she feels it may have a third book (we know now that it does). Discussed are things like what made the author actually write it all down, how she goes about conronting such tough, intense subject areas, how she hopes readers will be informed and connected, and get behind great causes it their own lives, and how she hopes that they’ll know that they are not alone in the world. She discusses her writing style and her hopes for the future of her writing.

The Guardian: Banned Books Week adopts author’s anti-censorship poem as manifesto

There is a danger in extreme right-wing power. Hopkins says that her “books speak to hard subject matter. Addiction. Cutting. Thoughts of suicide. Abuse. Sexual abuse. All these issues affect children. Look at the statistics. Closing your eyes won’t make these things go away.” Discussed here are other books that have been consistently challenged and/or banned and it’s dangers. Ellen Hopkins believes everyone should be able to be informed “arm them with knowledge”. Defending the right to read opens up channels that enable discussions about important topics.

Publishers Weekly Childrens’ Starred Review 2014

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Intellectual freedom letter

One of the things that I’m most passionate about is the freedom of speech.  I firmly believe that access to the written word should be one of our most fundamental rights. The written word, found in books, journals, magazines, websites, internet databases, etc. provides informative, enlightening and social discourse.  In the written word, there is power. Because it has the ability of making the reader see things through the eyes or minds of someone else, because it has the power to promote free thinking, because it has the power to persuade the reader to comprehend things differently. Information is power, and like all power there are those who want to control it.

I attribute my way of thinking back to my freshman year of High School. In my English literature class, the assigned reading was the Catcher in the Rye. Our enlightened Dominican sisters were revolutionary compared to the strict thinking of the administration in my Grammar school; they informed us that this was considered a banned book, one of the most challenged books, in fact, to date.  I always did enjoy reading and hanging out at the library and found out other titles that were banned. I started with Judy Blume, Harper Lee, Lois Lowry, the list seemed to be endless.

Books can be challenged by any person or organization, but in doing so, I believe that sometimes it has the opposite effect, wherein more people will want it. And I believe that is good. The problem lies in a few extremists that really want banned books banned.  So, even as a young person I would suggest books to friends, I read a lot, talked about it, and luckily, my parents have always been open-minded and progressive in their way of thinking. As soon as I had access to internet, I checked out the ALA website and always, ALWAYS buy something during banned books week just to support the cause and to bring attention to the subject.

Things are changing in this country, and all over the world, in terms of whom and what controls the sharing of creative works; whether it is writings, art, music… I fear that it is a freedom that we might actually lose. I encourage everyone to get informed and involved, and please, PLEASE, exercise your right to read freely.

A copy of an Intellectual freedom defense letter is attached here:

intellectual-freedom-letter

Teen interview

I interviewed two 14 year old girls who are my friends’ children.

My thoughts:

  • Libraries must have up-to-date programs and software, and keep the wifi and bandwidth up to speed. Teens are used to immediate access/connection on their PC’s and portable devises.
  • Small town rural vs. big city. Libraries need to be effectively marketed and be more community oriented. Better funding is needed to make great programs available more often and in multiple locations.
  • Teens are always reading! They are constantly exchanging words and sentences, texting, blogging, besides the actual reading of literature. Teens are never very far from the written word. And I think that’s awesome!
  • Friendship. Sharing books, music, creative projects. The shared media interests keep them in a group where they are important to each other and supported.
  • Creativity: I’d like to see teens running their own programs (within guidelines and reason). Like from the bottom up. Forming a committee, writing a proposal, getting approvals, the works. Teens are capable. Perhaps open mic or poetry nights, or design your own canvas, improv; organized and ran by teens for teens.

In conclusion, we can do better to more effectively serve teens.