Yes, Audiobooks & Graphic Novels Count: Accepting Students’ Diverse Reading Choices

I originally delivered a version of this post at the Avon Free Public Library’s Local Author Festival in June. Each of the presenters was asked to talk about the reader’s experience. I recently revised that presentation for a blog post for Latin@s in Kid Lit. The post seems to have resonated with people, and I think it’s an important issue now that young people are back in school. I’ve decided to reblog it here.

 

A reader’s experience, even with a shared text, is dependent on so many things, including background knowledge, interest in the subject, interest in reading in general, and engagement in the moment. I’m sure we’ve all experienced this subjectivity of reading, how one person can have a completely different reaction to a book than another. As a teacher, I’ve gained a whole new level of understanding about the reader’s experience.

When I taught middle school language arts with regular-sized classes, I experienced a typical range of responses from students. When I became a reading specialist, however, the response to reading was more consistent. My students are what’s called reluctant readers. Many of them hate to read, and they all score well below their peers on reading assessments. Of the 27 students who receive reading intervention with me this year, 85 percent are of color and almost half are Latin@. In 2010, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development’s article, “The Latino Education Crisis,” stated Latin@s are the least educated ethnic group. More recent statistics indicate both good and not-so-good news. The Latin@ dropout rate has dropped significantly, but remains higher than other groups. Meanwhile, the number of Latin@s in college has tripled in ten years, but Latin@s lag behind other groups in obtaining a four-year degree.

Each school year is an opportunity to change these statistics by helping students become better readers.

When I ask my students why they don’t like to read, their most common answers are these: It’s too hard. It’s confusing. It’s boring. It’s too long. I just don’t like it. I can’t connect to it. I have better things to do with my time.

My job, then, is to help them become better readers and hopefully love a book or two or more. In other words, I have to find ways to alter their previous reading experiences. I have to help them find books that aren’t too hard or boring or too long. Books that they can connect with and think are worth their time.

In some ways, this should be easy because libraries have thousands of books to choose from, but this is what happens when I take my students to the library: Some wander around aimlessly with a “get me out of here” look on their face. Some are enthusiastic, which is great, but have no idea what to do. I ask about their favorite author or genre, but they don’t have one. If I keep asking questions, I’ll usually get enough information to guide them to the right area. But, then they are faced with a wall of books and don’t know where to start.

Once, I gave a girl a specific title to find and told her to check the spine for the author’s last name. After a while, she called me over and said the book wasn’t there, that all of these books were written by FIC.

I share this not to make fun of her–because it really isn’t funny–but to shed light on the reality that some middle schoolers don’t know how to navigate a library or the world of books in general. They haven’t read enough in their lives and/or their reading experiences have probably to this point been mandated by school curricula. As a result, their identity as readers doesn’t exist at all or has been completely shaped by others. This is partly due to what they’ve been told “counts” when it comes to reading.

Lowriders in Space_FC_HiResOne boy told me he liked cars, but the library had no books on cars. Hmm, really? When I showed him the nonfiction area filled with books about cars, he said, “But these aren’t stories.” And then, I got it. He didn’t think nonfiction counted. Maybe he has been told this, or maybe he’s been encouraged to read fiction more often. I don’t know, but his desire to read nonfiction about cars was derailed somewhere along the way. Happy ending: he checked out two nonfiction books that day and the librarian ordered Lowriders in Space. So cool (the book and our librarian). And yes, I assured him, graphic novels count, too.

Here are things my students have said:

I like audio books, but that’s cheating.

But, it’s a graphic novel.

But it’s nonfiction.

It’s too short. My teacher said it has to be at least 200 pages.

I don’t like this book, but my teacher said I have to finish it.

These comments pain me.

Because if we say audio books don’t count, then aren’t we negating the tradition of oral storytelling?

If we say graphic novels don’t count, then aren’t we negating the entire field of the visual arts?

If we say something is too short, aren’t we invalidating the short story, the novella, poetry, books in verse, non-fiction articles, or picture books?

If we tell someone to finish an independent reading book he dislikes, then isn’t it no longer independent reading? We’ve taken away his ability to choose what he wants to read and drop what he doesn’t like.

So, we’re sometimes telling readers that their choices don’t count, they aren’t good enough, and this, then, is coupled with the reader’s feelings that reading is boring, hard, and not worthy of his or her time.

So what does that leave us? Classes like mine with students who have had limited, difficult reading experiences.

But, don’t worry, this story has a happy ending.

After 15 years of teaching, but especially after the last five as a reading specialist, I have learned that the reader’s experience is diverse, and therefore, we must learn to accept diverse reading experiences.

What I mean is that I think we’re willing to accept that a reader’s experience is diverse based on personal history, background knowledge, interest, and skill, but we don’t often accept diverse reading experiences, especially with younger people.

Two young children lying on the grass outdoors wearing headphones reading togetherFor example, I’m never told by anyone not to listen to audiobooks, so why should I tell a student it’s cheating?

Ninth graders often read Of Mice and Men, which is 103 pages, but we tell a middle school student she can’t read a book less than 200 pages. Why?

And believe me, I am well versed on the Common Core State Standards and well aware of how competitive schools and the workplace have become. I know the statistics that tell us if a child is not reading on grade level by the third grade, he may never read on grade level without the proper intervention. I understand the push for rigor and the expectation that all people read certain books in high school and college.

At the same time, though, what most studies tell us is that the number one thing that affects a person’s lifelong reading skills is independent reading–self-selected reading that supplements, complements, or challenges in-class reading.

And when people read independently, they should be protected by the Reader’s Bill of Rights.

So, if we want all children to develop an independent reading habit, we have to allow them to truly self-select reading material and we have to be okay with their choices. If they want to read a graphic novel or comic book, fine. If they want to listen to an audio book, awesome. If they want to read an 85 page book, go for it.

Chances are if they do these things, and feel successful, they just might do it again and again and again. And then maybe they’ll start reading longer and more complex things, and they won’t see reading as hard or boring or not worth their time. Maybe then they will be able to navigate the library and decide on a favorite genre or author. Maybe as they get older, they will graduate from high school, reducing the dropout rate even more. Maybe more will earn four-year degrees. And maybe they will then read to their children, who will become avid readers, too. And a simple thing adults can do now to help this along is not to say, “That’s too short, too easy, or doesn’t count.” Instead, support young readers’ diverse choices and allow them to develop their own reading experiences.

The 15th Happenings: June News

2015 YA & MG Debut Authors

Launch Days

YOU'RE INVITEDTHE WITCH HUNTERTHE EDGE OF FOREVERBOOK SCAVENGERSKYSCRAPING

May 19th:YOU’RE INVITED by Gail Nall and Jen Malone
2nd: THE WITCH HUNTER by Virginia Boecker
2nd: THE EDGE OF FOREVER by Melissa E. Hurst
2nd: BOOK SCAVENGER by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman
2nd: SKYSCRAPING Cordelia Jensen

SECRET OF THE SEVENSSURVIVAL STRATEGIES OF THE ALMOST BRAVERAISING RUFUSTHE SACRED LIES OF MINNOW BLYLAST YEAR'S MISTAKE

8th: SECRET OF THE SEVENS by Lynn Lindquist
9th: SURVIVAL STRATEGIES OF THE ALMOST BRAVE by Jen White
9th: RAISING RUFUS by David Fulk
9th: THE SACRED LIES OF MINNOW BLY by Stephanie Oakes
9th: LAST YEAR’S MISTAKE by Gina Ciocca

MOTHMAN'S CURSETHE NIGHT WE SAID YESBETWEEN THE NOTES

16th:BETWEEN THE NOTES by Sharon Huss Roat
16th:MOTHMAN’S CURSE by Christine Hayes
16th:THE NIGHT WE SAID YES by Lauren Gibaldi

coversAN INFINITE NUMBER OF PARALLEL UNIVERSES by Randy Ribay @YA Highway

Of InterestCindy L. Rodriguez discusses suicide and aftermath for Mental Health Awareness Month at Disability in Kidlit.

Angelica R. Jackson shares some bumps in her writing journey, talks research…

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The When Reason Breaks Blog Tour Round-Up

For the past two weeks, book bloggers have participated in the When Reason Breaks blog tour. This post is just to say thank you:

Robert Downey Jr. Thanks

And…You’re awesome!

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I know there are so many books and so little time, which is why I really appreciate it whenever someone tells me they have read my debut novel. A very special thanks goes out to these bloggers for highlighting When Reason Breaks on their sites and doing very cool things, like spine poetry, connecting the book to Emily Dickinson poems, or making a playlist.

Here’s the full round-up of the tour:

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Guest Post On Emily, Poetry, and My Writing Journey (E. Kristin Anderson’s blog, Write All the Words!) (4/6/2015)

The YA Kitten connects ED’s “How happy is the little Stone” with When Reason Breaks. (4/7/2015)

Book Spine Poetry by Jen at YA Romantics (4/8/2015)

Q&A on Adventures of a Book Junkie (4/9/2015)

Guest post on Itching for Books about the use of Dickinson’s poetry in the novel (4/10/2015)

Q&A on Fic Fare (4/13/15)

Book spine poetry by The Book Belles using WRB. (4/14/15)

Guest post for Novel Ink about books that affected me deeply (4/15/15)

The Reading Nook Reviews connects a Dickinson poem to the novel (4/16/15)

Ashley at YAdult Review created a playlist for the novel (4/17/15)

THANK YOU!

2015 YA Scavenger Hunt!

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Hi! I’m Cindy L. Rodriguez, your hostess for this leg of the hunt. Some things about me: I have an eight-year-old daughter and a three-year old rescue mutt. I am a full-time reading teacher, and I love the three Cs: coffee, chocolate, coconut.

Welcome to the YA Scavenger Hunt! You are currently hunting on TEAM TEAL!

During this hunt, you will access exclusive content from each author and get a clue for the hunt. Add up the clues to enter for the grand prize. One lucky winner will receive one signed book from each author on the hunt in my team! But play fast: this contest (and all of the exclusive bonus material) will only be online for 72 hours!

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????EIGHT contests are going on simultaneously, and you can enter one or all! If you’d like to find out more about the hunt, see links to all the authors participating, and see the full list of prizes up for grabs, go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page.

SCAVENGER HUNT PUZZLE

Directions: Below, you’ll notice I have listed my favorite number. Collect the favorite numbers of all the authors on the teal team, and then add them up.

Entry form: Once you’ve added up all the numbers, make sure you fill out the form here to officially qualify for the grand prize. Only entries that have the correct number will qualify.

Rules: Open internationally. Anyone below the age of 18 should have a parent or guardian’s permission to enter. To be eligible for the grand prize, you must submit the completed entry form by SUNDAY, APRIL 5, at noon Pacific Time. Entries sent without the correct number or without contact information will not be considered.

SCAVENGER HUNT POST

Today, I am hosting KRISTI HELVIG on my website for the YA Scavenger Hunt!

Kristi Helvig

Kristi Helvig is a Ph.D. clinical psychologist turned sci-fi/fantasy author. Her first novel, BURN OUT (Egmont USA), which Kirkus Reviews called “a scorching series opener not to be missed,” follows 17-year-old Tora Reynolds, one of Earth’s last survivors, when our sun burns out early. In the sequel, STRANGE SKIES, coming 4/28/2015, Tora makes it to a new planet only to discover a whole new host of problems—and the same people who still want her dead. Order Kristi’s books through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or your favorite local retailer. Kristi muses about Star Trek, space monkeys, and other assorted topics on her blog at http://www.kristihelvig.com and Twitter (@KristiHelvig). You can also find her on Facebook. Kristi resides in sunny Colorado with her hubby, two kiddos, and behaviorally-challenged dogs.

For more information check out her website, and click here for more information about STRANGE SKIES.

EXCLUSIVE CONTENT

Below the cover image and novel description is an excerpt from STRANGE SKIES, so you get a sneak peek before it is released!

Strange Skies

Caelia is the new Earth. That’s what the Consulate told everyone and, against all odds, Tora finally has made it there. Yet she can’t see the ocean from her cell in the Consulate’s containment center, and she doesn’t know what happened to the weapons her father died for and she’s risked her life to save. As she plans her escape, she runs into the last person she ever expected to see, and now Tora has a new purpose: break free, get the guns, and save her father. But first she’ll have to navigate a strange new planet, track down James (whose loyalties still remain questionable), and find Kale…before he finds her first.

Sweat drenched my body and my teeth chattered. I struggled to pull up the blanket but it, too, was soaked. Pain racked my head as I tried to figure out where the hell I was. Judging by the temperature, I was being held in a giant icebox.

When I attempted to sit up, my arms refused to support my weight. My eyes fell on a small device near my right hand, and I summoned all my energy to press its red button. The pounding in my head competed with widespread chills.

A high-pitched beeping of a nearby monitor permeated my consciousness. Goose bumps broke out on my arms as my skin registered the cold air. An extra thin blanket lay on the cot by my feet, yet I couldn’t find the strength to pull it up. My eyes had trouble focusing and I could just make out the gigantic form coming toward me. A mix of relief and hostility swirled through my brain. I couldn’t think straight. I didn’t know what it meant.

“Morning, Miss Sunshine,” the large woman grumbled. “Couldn’t even wait another hour for your dose, could you?”

I stared back at the red button under my finger. So Id caused the beeping sound. The woman grabbed my arm as though she expected resistance, but my limb was like limp in her hand. Her dark eyes bored into me as she lifted a green med tube and pressed the tip of it to my arm. I swear she smirked as she pressed the injection trigger.

Instant warmth flooded my veins and my body relaxed. Everything felt right with the world again. Something small nagged at the back of my mind—something I was supposed to do, or remember—but the meds quickly swept the troubled thoughts away. A familiar deep heaviness settled in and my eyelids drooped. Utter bliss and peace filled me, and I yawned as the woman retreated wordlessly from the room. I couldn’t remember my own name if my life depended on it, not that it mattered. I felt great. I could stay here forever.

A deep voice echoed throughout the room as I drifted in and out of consciousness. I didn’t see anyone so maybe I was hallucinating. The voice said the same things over and over again. The Consulate serves. The Consulate protects. The Consulate weapons help us to protect you. The Consulate is your friend.

Every once in a while I’d stir awake and swear someone was in the room with me. I caught the scent of wildflowers a few times, yet when I opened my eyes, the room was empty. I drifted back into sleep but couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t really alone.

I tried to clear my thoughts but whatever meds the woman gave me made my brain feel like mush. I remembered being injured and aboard a ship. A Consulate ship. The Consulate must have saved me from something and brought me here. Was this Caelia?

The Consulate is your friend.

I stared up at the faceless voice. The Consulate must be helping me to get better. Then why was that woman so unpleasant? And why couldnt I remember anything?

And don’t forger to enter the contest for a chance to win lots of books! See the graphic below for all of the books you can win from the Teal Team authors! To enter, you need to know that my favorite number is:

23

Add up all the favorite numbers of the authors on the teal team, and you’ll have the secret code to enter for the grand prize!

CONTINUE THE HUNT

To keep going on your quest to win ALL the books, you need to check out the next author: Lori M. Lee.

Team Teal (2)

We Love Teachers Young Adult Novel Giveaway!!

we heart teachersWith Valentine’s Day upon us, a group of middle grade and young adult authors want to express our love for teachers with a giveaway. One lucky teacher will win all of the YA titles listed below. For more information about each novel, click on the cover image. To enter the giveaway, click on the Rafflecopter link at the bottom of this post and follow the directions. To enter the middle grade giveaway, visit Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s blog for more information. Both giveaways run through February 17. We will be Tweeting about it with the hashtag #authorsloveteachers. If you want to spread the news to your teacher friends, please do so using the hashtag. Good luck!!

 

 

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Here’s how to connect with each of us online:

Nova Ren Suma: @novaren novaren.com

Lee Kelly: @leeykelly newwritecity.com/books

Cindy L. Rodriguez: @RodriguezCindyL cindylrodriguez.com

Alexis Bass: @alexisbasswrite alexisbassbooks.com

Sarah Darer Littman: @sarahdarerlitt sarahdarerlittman.com

Jo Knowles: @JoKnowles joknowles.com

 

And here’s the link to the Rafflecopter:

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/e39d5a2711/

 

When Reason Breaks Releases Today!!!

This post is also published on the Latin@s in Kid Lit site. Instead of writing something else for my own blog, I am cross-posting it here. Makes sense, right?

 

Reason Breaks Blended CollageToday is the official release day of When Reason Breaks, my debut young adult contemporary novel published by Bloomsbury! Yay! The novel is about two girls, both sophomores in high school, who struggle with depression in different ways. Here’s part of the official description:

A Goth girl with an attitude problem, Elizabeth Davis must learn to control her anger before it destroys her. Emily Delgado appears to be a smart, sweet girl, with a normal life, but as depression clutches at her, she struggles to feel normal. Both girls are in Ms. Diaz’s English class, where they connect to the words of Emily Dickinson. Both are hovering on the edge of an emotional precipice. One of them will attempt suicide. And with Dickinson’s poetry as their guide, both girls must conquer their personal demons to ever be happy.

To celebrate my journey, which started seven years ago, I’m sharing some pictures I took along the way.

 

IMG_3086This first picture represents the writing, revising, and editing phase done alone and then with critique partners. It took me three years to write the draft that I used to query agents. Yes, that’s a long time, but I was working a full-time job and a part-time job, while single-parenting. My writing place is on my bed, and without fail, my dogs–first Rusty (RIP) and now Ozzie–have kept me company. This has been very sweet, except for the times they pawed the keyboard. Notice the guilty look in his eyes.

 

 

 

IMG_1294I landed an agent, Laura Langlie, after a few months of querying. I revised based on her feedback, and then the manuscript went out on submission. It stayed out there for a long, long time. We received some valuable feedback after the first round, so I revised again and went back out on submission. Finding the right agent and editor is kind of like literary Match.com. You might go on lots of dates that don’t work, but that’s okay, because the goal is finding the perfect person. So, it took a long time, but the book landed with the perfect person, Mary Kate Castellani at Bloomsbury. This is a picture of the manuscript next to my contract. Receiving the contract is one of those “oh-my-goodness-this-is-happening” moments. At this point, the deal had already been announced online, but seeing the contract in black-and-white makes it real.

 

IMG_4414AHHHHH! ARCs. This was a big moment. I didn’t taken any pictures during revising and copy editing. They wouldn’t have been pretty. But, please know that a lot goes on between the previous picture and this one (major understatement). After revisions, the manuscript went to copy edits. That day was significant because it meant drafting, for the most part, was over. Changes could still be made, but the story moved from creation into production. I received a blurb from the amazing Margarita Engle, and the cover was revealed. Soon after, these beauties arrived at my house. And AHHHHH! ARCs! Even though I had seen all the pieces–manuscript, blurb, cover art–it was different seeing it all put together in book form.

 

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The ARCs went on tour to other authors debuting in 2015, friends, and family. I also gave a couple away on Goodreads. This was the copy that went to the first winner, Ali. I have signed thousands of things, but this was the first time I signed a copy of my novel. Around this time, the book was listed on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other places and became available for pre-order. Holy wow!

And people were actually reading the book, which, of course, was always the goal, but as ARCs went out and reviews popped up, I became aware that what had once belonged to me–what had only existed in my head and heart–was really out in the world. Here is photographic evidence of actual reading going on.

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image_3Now that ARCs were out in the world, I considered ways to help market the novel. One thing I learned from other authors was that I had to do my part when it came to marketing. I didn’t go overboard with swag. I decided to create a book trailer and print book marks and postcards with a QR code linked to the book trailer.

The book trailer was a fun, family experience. My sister’s dining room table was the work station, with my image_2nephew–a high school freshman–doing all of the real tech work. He’s a genius with computers, so he handled putting it all together. The opening voice belongs is my niece, and I narrate the rest of it, although my voice was altered to be lower and much cooler, in my opinion. Bookmarks have been distributed to teachers, librarians, and bloggers. Postcards went to high schools, public libraries, and independent bookstores in Connecticut, in addition to some libraries and bookstores in other parts of the country. Writers always question “what works,” and I think the answer is different for each of us. Bookmarks worked for me because I’m a teacher and I have lots of teacher friends who asked for 50-100 at a time. I knew they’d get into the hands of teen readers. Also, I have received some positive feedback from the postcards. A few librarians emailed me saying they received the post card, viewed the trailer, and planned to order the book; some even invited me to participate in events. So, in my mind, these three things were worth it.

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While the ARCs were “out there,” the manuscript continued to be worked on through copy editing and then first pass pages, which should be called the 100th pass pages because everyone involved had read the manuscript so many times. First pass pages are cool because the manuscript is typeset, rather than being on regular paper in the standard 12-point Times Roman. After the first pass pages were returned to the publisher, the next time I saw my novel, it was in……..

 

 

 

HARDCOVER!!!

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These came earlier than expected, so I was surprised when I found them on my doorstep. My daughter hugged me and said, “Wow, Mom, they’re beautiful. Congratulations.” I might have gotten a little teary eyed. That day, I donated a copy to my local library and then brought copies to my family. My mom cried when she saw it. My mom doesn’t cry easily. I might have gotten a little teary eyed then, too.

During this last month before publication, I’ve been excited and nervous and, most of all, grateful. Thank you to everyone who has been involved in this process. It takes a village to write and publish a book, and because of everyone who supported me along the way, I saw my novel on a shelf in Barnes & Noble for the first time this past weekend. Wow!

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Available at:

Indiebound Barnes & Noble | Amazon Powell’s Book Depository | Books-A-Million | Target

And please look for it at your local libraries.

Depression in YA Lit and the Latin@ Community

This post was originally published on the Latin@s in Kid Lit site, but I am reblogging it here on my personal site because it’s such an important issue to me and is the central subject of my debut young adult novel. Here it is:

By Cindy L. Rodriguez

You're Lying graphicWhen I was 23 years old, I left Connecticut for Boston for what should have been an amazing experience. I had been recently hired to be a researcher for the Boston Globe’s award-winning investigative team, a dream come true for a young journalist. Over the next two years, however, depression slowly ruined me, although many people close to me never knew. I wrote about it for the Courant years later, when my mind was clear enough to make sense of it. Here’s an excerpt from that article:

“It was a rainy February night in 1997 when it became apparent that the depression was no longer a temporary emotion, but a disease that had invaded every part of my life. I had gotten into my car after work and cried all the way home. I can’t remember why. But I remember feeling like I was choking, like every nerve in my body was numb, like someone was squeezing my heart and everything good inside of me had been twisted around. I remember feeling hopeless.

“I knew then that this thing eating away at me would not just go away. For a long time, I was convinced it would. I believed that the admirable traits I inherited from those before me, like frankness and humor, would overpower this flaw.

“But days and months had blurred into more than a year. Fatigue had seeped into my bones and smiling became an effort — a false statement. I was tired all day and couldn’t sleep at night. I called into work sick with a flu I didn’t have. I pried myself off the sheets to make it in other days. My memory was deteriorating. I could listen to someone talk at length and not absorb a single word. I have no detailed recollection of certain events.

“Still, I thought the depression was situational. I was having a rough time at work, feeling beat-up emotionally and unappreciated. With my career being such a significant part of my identity, I felt shaken and unsure of my talents and abilities. Still, something inside of me was fighting back. I thought I could pull myself out of it.

“That February night, it was my mom who convinced me that this was bigger. That it was something that didn’t just belong to me — that I had inherited it. That it belonged to her and my grandmother before her. This was out of my control. ‘You are definitely depressed,’ she said. ‘Promise me you will see someone.’

“Six days later, I sat in a psychiatrist’s office, unsure of what to do exactly. Isn’t this a luxury for wealthy people? Or a necessity for people with real problems, like battered women? It was hard to justify needing this, being an otherwise perfectly healthy and successful 25-year-old. Yet, when I opened my mouth, a load of hurt poured out and the hour flew by.”

WhenReasonBreaks_CompTen years later, I was planning and drafting what would become When Reason Breaks, my debut novel about depression, attempted suicide, and the life and work of Emily Dickinson that releases February 10. While writing, I knew some readers would wonder why either of the two main characters–Emily Delgado and Elizabeth Davis–would want to kill herself. Nothing tragic happened to either of them. To some readers, none of their problems will be seen as good enough reasons to attempt suicide. They’ll want a big reveal moment: “Oh, she was (fill in the blank with a horrible experience). No wonder she’s depressed and suicidal. That’s a legitimate reason.”

When I was depressed, I didn’t think I had a right to be because, like my characters, nothing tragic had happened to me. I wanted to have a significant event, something I could point to and say, “Ah-ha, that’s the reason. If I address this one, obvious, horrible thing that happened to me, then I’ll be okay.” But I didn’t have that thing. Many depressed people don’t. And with the absence of something obviously wrong in my life, I pushed through the days for far too long, thinking what some people might think about my characters: my problems weren’t significant enough.

This kind of thinking can lead to tragedy because the depression goes untreated, which I’ve discovered happens often in the Latin@ community.

National health organizations report that Latin@s are at higher risk for depression than other minorities. Women experience major depression more often than men, and of students in grades 9-12, significantly more Latinas attempted suicide than their non-Latina peers. Yet, most Latin@s with mental health problems go untreated. A lack of access to affordable services and the stigma attached to mental illnesses are cited as barriers to treatment. Untreated depression can lead to suicide, which is the third leading cause of death for all people aged 15-24.

These statistics got me thinking about depression in young adult fiction, and I realized that in the books I’ve read, white characters are more likely to land on a psychiatrist’s couch. Most of the Latin@ characters in novels I’ve read fight through mild to severe depression without medical help, or they are somehow detained, in a treatment facility or group home, and the therapy is required. In When Reason Breaks, one of the main characters visits a doctor and gets medication, but doesn’t take it. She finally accepts real help after her suicide attempt.

As the Latin@ population continues to grow, I hope barriers are removed so that more Latin@s seek treatment for mental illnesses. I also hope more YA writers tackle the variety of mental illnesses and show characters of color getting help at some point instead of suffering through their pain. Maybe more teens will see themselves in these books and understand that their problems are significant enough, that they don’t need a “real reason” to feel the way they do, because in reality, depression is the real reason.

 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

National Hopeline Network: 1-800-442-4673

Suggested by book lovers online, here are some titles with Latin@ characters who struggle with different levels of depression.

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