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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Fellow Fifteener–Crow’s Rest Book Trailer Reveal

Today, I’m helping fellow Fearless Fifteener Angelica R. Jackson reveal her new book trailer for her debut novel, Crow’s Rest, which releases May 15 with Spencer Hill Press.

About the book:

Avery Flynn arrives for a visit at her Uncle Tam’s, eager to rekindle her summertime romance with her crush-next-door, Daniel. But Daniel’s not the sweet, neurotic guy she remembers–and she wonders if this is her Daniel at all. Or if someone–or something–has taken his place. Her quest to find the real Daniel–and get him back–plunges Avery into a world of Fae and changelings, where creatures swap bodies like humans change their socks, and magic lives much closer to home than she ever imagined.

About the author:

Angelica R. Jackson, in keeping with her scattered Gemini nature, has published articles on gardening, natural history, web design, travel, hiking, and local history. Other interests include pets, reading, green living, and cooking for food allergies (the latter not necessarily by choice, but she’s come to terms with it). Ongoing projects include short fiction, poetry, novels, art photography, and children’s picture books.In 2012, she started Pens for Paws Auction, which features critiques and swag from agents and authors to raise money for a no-kill, cage-free cat sanctuary where she volunteers, Fat Kitty City. She’s also been involved with capturing the restoration efforts of Preston Castle in photographs and can sometimes be found haunting its hallways.

Here’s a post about the making of the trailer.

And……….

here’s…….

the book trailer! Enjoy!

 

Fellow Fifteener: Alison DeCamp–My Near-Death Adventures (99% True)

22318393As a member of the Fearless Fiteeners, I was able to read an ARC of Alison DeCamp’s middle grade historical novel, My Near-Death Adventures (99% True) (2/24/2015; Crown Books for Young Readers). ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) are the uncorrected proofs that are sent to reviewers, librarians, and book bloggers to promote the book. My fellow fifteeners and 2k15 classmates are sending their ARCs on tour, which allows us a sneak peek at these upcoming new releases. I’ve decided to let you all know about the ARCs I’m reading to help support my 2015 debut colleagues.

Here’s the description: It is 1895. Stan is on a mission to find his long-lost father in the logging camps of Michigan. And he’s embellishing all of it in his stupendous scrapbook.

There are many things that 11-year-old Stanley Slater would like to have in life, most of all, a father. But what if Stan’s missing dad isn’t “dearly departed” after all? Who better to find this absent hero/cowboy/outlaw than manly Stan himself? Unfortunately, Stan’s fending off his impossible cousin Geri, evil Granny, and Mama’s suitors like Cold-Blooded Killer Stinky Pete. If only he could join the River Drive, the most perilous adventure of all, where even a fellow’s peavey is at risk.

It’s a wild ride for Stan as he finds out about true manliness. But at least Stan has his scrapbook, full of 200 black-and-white 19th-century advertisements and photos, “augmented” with his commentary and doodles.

Stan’s tale will leave readers in stitches, but not the kind that require medical attention.

What I liked about it: I love Stan. How can you not? He’s funny, charming, and vulnerable all wrapped up in a super manly package. Just look at those muscles on the cover! Seriously, Alison DeCamp had me laughing from the start and throughout the novel. I stopped writing notes in the ARC because I would have filled the page with LOLs and smiley faces. Really. Reading DeCamp’s debut novel is like a master class in “voice” because she Stan’s is distinct and doesn’t waver at all throughout the novel. This is a sweet, fun story about a boy trying to become a man that will be loved by many. If you are a middle grade parent, teacher, or librarian, this one should definitely be on your shelf.

About the author (from her website): Alison grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where people say “Yah, eh?” and “Youse guys” and dress in many layers for seven months of the year. Unlike Stan, the hero in her book, Alison had indoor plumbing and more than two pairs of pants. However, she might have worn the same sweater every day in fifth grade.

The daughter of a hardware store owner (and reluctant, occasional employee) Alison spent too many school breaks attending ACE Hardware conventions and not enough at Disney World. After graduating from Michigan State University, Alison began teaching middle and high school English. Here she dealt with students chewing tobacco during one of her amazing lessons as well as a questionable principal who once pulled her out of class just to get Alison’s opinion on her new skirt.

Alison admires teachers greatly.

After eight years, Alison quit teaching to stay at home with two babies who are now two teenagers. Babies and teenagers require almost the same amount of work. During this time she taught herself to make glass beads and jewelry which she sold at local galleries. She now can occasionally be found “working” at Between the Covers bookstore in Harbor Springs or grocery shopping. Her people like to eat.

Fellow Fifteener: Jasmine Warga–My Heart and Other Black Holes

18336965As a member of the Fearless Fiteeners, I was able to read an ARC of Jasmine Warga’s young adult novel, My Heart and Other Black Holes (2/10/2015; HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray). ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) are the uncorrected proofs that are sent to reviewers, librarians, and book bloggers to promote the book. My fellow fifteeners and 2k15 classmates are sending their ARCs on tour, which allows us a sneak peek at these upcoming new releases. I’ve decided to let you all know about the ARCs I’m reading to help support my 2015 debut colleagues.

Here’s the description: Sixteen-year-old physics nerd Aysel is obsessed with plotting her own death. With a mother who can barely look at her without wincing, classmates who whisper behind her back, and a father whose violent crime rocked her small town, Aysel is ready to turn her potential energy into nothingness.

There’s only one problem: she’s not sure she has the courage to do it alone. But once she discovers a website with a section called Suicide Partners, Aysel’s convinced she’s found her solution: a teen boy with the username FrozenRobot (aka Roman) who’s haunted by a family tragedy is looking for a partner.

Even though Aysel and Roman have nothing in common, they slowly start to fill in each other’s broken lives. But as their suicide pact becomes more concrete, Aysel begins to question whether she really wants to go through with it. Ultimately, she must choose between wanting to die or trying to convince Roman to live so they can discover the potential of their energy together. Except that Roman may not be so easy to convince.

What I liked about it: This novel is both heartbreaking and hopeful. Jasmine Warga captures the weighted, dead-inside feeling of depression and, ultimately, the tiny fragments of hope that can help someone fight through the pain. Aysel’s transition from wanting to commit suicide to wanting to save both herself and Roman is slow and, therefore, realistic. Their relationship slowly reveals to her reasons to stay alive. That Roman does not follow suit is also realistic because he has his own demons to face and having people love you doesn’t make depression go away. This is an intimate, accurate depiction of depression, why some teens consider ending their lives, and what it takes to find hope again.

About the author: Jasmine lives and writes in a small town that is a few miles outside of Cincinnati, Ohio. She likes: Animals (of all sorts!), especially her cat, Salvador, and her puppy, Scout. Surrealist sketches. Iced coffee. The night sky. Old swing sets. Lemonade. Rainy mornings. She does not like talking about things she dislikes. For more information, check out her author website.

Fellow Fifteener: Alexis Bass–Love and Other Theories

18480081As a member of the Fearless Fiteeners, I was able to read an ARC of Alexis Bass’s young adult contemporary novel, Love and Other Theories (12/31/2014; HarperTeen). ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) are the uncorrected proofs that are sent to reviewers, librarians, and book bloggers to promote the book. My fellow fifteeners and 2k15 classmates are sending their ARCs on tour, which allows us a sneak peek at these upcoming new releases. I’ve decided to let you all know about the ARCs I’m reading to help support my 2015 debut colleagues.

Here’s the description: If you want more, you have to give less.

That’s the secret to dating in high school. By giving as little as they expect to get in return, seventeen-year-old Aubrey Housing and her three best friends have made it to the second semester of their senior year heartbreak-free. And it’s all thanks to a few simple rules: don’t commit, don’t be needy, and don’t give away your heart.

So when smoking-hot Nathan Diggs transfers to Lincoln High, it shouldn’t be a big deal. At least that’s what Aubrey tells herself. But Nathan’s new-boy charm, his kindness, and his disarming honesty throw Aubrey off her game and put her in danger of breaking the most important rule of all: Don’t fall in love.

What I liked about it: Alexis Bass takes an unflinching look at love and sex in high school. Aubrey and her friends hook up with boys when they want to because they want to. They are not worried about others’ feeling because, according to their theories, feelings make you needy and pathetic. On the surface, they’re mean, self-centered mean girls, but…just wait…the story is about so much more than that. Aubrey and her friends learn that feelings are required for personal growth. They don’t make you weak; they make you human. Some level of heartbreak is inevitable when you love people–friends as well as boy/girlfriends. Playing by their self-imposed rules only delays the inevitable, and everyone has to face the messy truths of love and heartbreak before they can move on.

About the author (from her website): Alexis grew up in Washington, went to college in Arizona, and spent her early twenties in Seattle. She currently lives in Northern California with Dylan McKay, her gorgeous and rambunctious golden retriever. She loves good fashion and good TV as much as a good book, and is a huge advocate of the three C’s: coffee, chocolate, and cheese.

Novel Pre-Order & Help My School!

WhenReasonBreaks_CompDuring this next week, you can help me and public school teachers and students–all at the same time!

My novel, When Reason Breaks, releases exactly two months from today, and my school is having its annual Barnes & Noble book fair and fundraiser.

The good news is that pre-orders will count toward the fundraiser for King Philip Middle School, where I work as a full-time reading specialist.

Also, if you didn’t already know, pre-order sales are a HUGE thing in the publishing world and can make a big difference for a new author. This is because pre-orders count toward release day numbers when the book officially drops on February 10, 2015. Strong early sales numbers make everyone happy–the publisher, booksellers, and the author :.) Seriously, though, decent sales out of the gate can lead to more marketing support for the novel and future book contracts.

So, if you are planning to buy When Reason Breaks–or any other books for holiday presents–now is a good time, so that the sale also benefits King Philip. If you are in the West Hartford area, stop by the Barnes & Noble in Blue Back Square tonight and make sure the booksellers know your sale should benefit King Philip. I will be there from 6 to 8 p.m. signing bookmarks and promoting my giveaway (see below).

Another option is to order online through the Barnes & Noble website from December 10-16. When you’re in the checkout area, enter this number into the “Book Fair Code” area: 11443314

And as a super bonus, I’m hosting a special pre-order giveaway.

Update: Most people who pre-ordered at the book fair were not interested in entering the giveaway, so I’m going to hold onto these items and use them as door prizes at my launch party.

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Fellow Fifteener: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

19547856As a member of the Fearless Fiteeners, I was able to read an ARC of Becky Albertalli’s young adult novel, Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda (4/7/2015; Balzer + Bray). ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) are the uncorrected proofs that are sent to reviewers, librarians, and book bloggers to promote the book. My fellow fifteeners and 2k15 classmates are sending their ARCs on tour, which allows us a sneak peek at these upcoming new releases. I’ve decided to let you all know about the ARCs I’m reading to help support my 2015 debut colleagues.

Here’s the description: Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.

With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.

What I liked about it: I love this book for many reasons. Becky Albertalli’s debut novel is funny, romantic, heartbreaking at times, and filled with diverse characters you instantly love. The teen boy voice is perfect. I laughed out loud many times and even “awww”ed in places as Simon and his mysterious online crush, Blue, fell in love via email, from the inside out, as Simon says. One particular thing I loved about Simon is, while he struggles with coming out, it’s not because he hates himself for being gay. He’s not battling against familial or religious beliefs to accept his own sexual orientation. But, still, coming out isn’t easy. It means sharing a new, huge piece of personal information that must be absorbed by friends, family, and classmates, and then bracing for the responses that range from “no big deal” to mean-spirited acts. I loved when he says we should all come out, that heterosexual should not be the default. Later, I loved when friends and family reveal aspects of themselves, and Simon notes that everyone is always coming out in different ways. We slowly reveal important aspects of our lives to the people close to us. It’s always a risk and nerve-wracking, but necessary for personal growth.

About the author: Becky Albertalli was born and raised in the Atlanta suburbs. She attended college in Connecticut and freaked out about all the snow. She majored in psychology, moved to Washington, D.C., after school and earned a doctorate in clinical psychology. She worked for seven years with an incredible group of gender nonconforming kids in Washington, D.C. She currently lives in Roswell, Georgia. with her husband and toddler son. She spends her days writing about teenagers and reading board books about trucks.

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