Gritty Contemporary Christian YA: Interview with Author Brian McBride

 

Haunted by the last question their mother ever asked them, the Greyson brothers struggle to cope with their grief and adjust to life after tragedy.

Semi-popular sixteen-year-old Liam spends his nights performing as the lead singer of his high school indie alternative/rock band, Liam and the Landmarks. But something happened to Liam four years ago at his friend’s house – a secret Liam will take to his grave. But in small towns like Summit, Colorado, secrets always seem to find their way out.

Twenty-four-year-old Ezra thought that he could cure his grief when he left Summit behind for a prestigious art school in Chicago, but things only got worse. Now a college dropout working at a gas station mini mart, he turns to alcohol, prescription painkillers, and meaningless one-night stands. But Ezra can’t run forever – life always catches up with you.

With abrasively honest dual-perspective narratives, Every Bright and Broken Thing illustrates the unbreakable bond between brothers and the power in coming home.

*******************

Bookstagrammer, blogger, and author Sunny Huck shared about Brian’s work on her Instagram and peaked my interest so I had to talk with him.

DJS: Your novels are contemporary and gritty. What drives you to write about the issues you do?

BM: Some of it is personal experience; a lot of the issues I write about are things that myself or others I know have faced. Depression, self-harm, mental illness, sexual abuse and assault, domestic violence, addiction, etc… 

But some of it is also that there’s a severe lack in the YA market – specifically the Christian YA market – of stories that deal with these things. I can’t name even five Christian YA Contemporary novels that could be comparable to, say, the stories John Green, Amber Smith, or Stephen Chbosky write. The Christian Fiction industry seems to think YA Fantasy novels are the only kind worth publishing. I disagree. I doubt I can fill this gap completely by myself, but maybe I can encourage other Christian authors of YA Contemporary to share their stories, too – THEN we’ll fill the gap!

DJS: What has been the most gratifying about writing realistic Christian fiction for young people?

BM: Hearing the stories of how my books have given people a new view of themselves, of the value of life, of faith and hope, and most importantly of Jesus. Hearing all those stories has been the highlight of this experience. 

DJS: Liam and Ezra go through some pretty harrowing times before they begin their healing journey in Every Bright and Broken Thing. Will you write any more of their story?

I don’t have any new stories simmering for Liam and Ezra right now. But I have a short story or novella I may or may not be planning to carry on Lincoln’s story. But anything is possible. If a good idea comes, I won’t say no to revisiting my boys in Summit. 

DJS: Every Bright and Broken Thing is the story of two brothers dealing with loss and how they react. In a few sentences, what would you say to those who want to support families going through grief?

BM: Hold onto them and don’t let go. I remember a time when I was far away from the Lord and was getting into some bad stuff, but my parents refused to let go. Some parents will kind of back off and say, “oh, well they’re adults now. They have to make their own choices.” But my parents weren’t about to let me go. They held on for months and months. I literally would not be alive today if it weren’t for the fierce, fighting kind of love my parents have for me.

In Every Bright, we see Mr. Greyson grapple with his own suffering and even come to realize how he allowed his grief to cause him to not hold onto his sons like he should. Mr. Greyson had to determine once again that he was going to hold onto his boys. In that, we see a father who was broken become strong again.

So, if you know someone who is suffering, hold on and don’t let go. Sometimes that means telling them the hard truth. Sometimes that just means listening and letting them cry on your shoulder. Whatever the case, hold on and don’t let go.

Thank you so much for taking time to talk with us today, Brian. Keep writing. I expect great things to come from your work.

A winner of the 2016 Wattys Award, Brian published the award-winning Young Adult Contemporary debut, Love and the Sea and Everything in Between, in 2018.
Born and raised in Oregon, Brian moved to the San Francisco Bay Area at 16-years-old. He’s been writing since he was thirteen-years-old and has been reading for longer. Brian is pursuing a degree in Social Work, which he hopes to use to help rescue children and families. Perhaps he’ll work to better the US’s foster care system? Or maybe he’ll join an organization that fights human trafficking? A fourth generation pastor, he is deeply passionate about the Church and is also pursuing his Minister’s License. It was this passion that compelled him to launch the Pioneer Mvmt, a social-media-based faith movement. Among other things, he is also passionate about iced tea, animals, adoption, and the arts.
Click here to leave a comment

Why I Write

 

My life is divided into before and after. I’m in the after now.

Eight years ago, this coming April, my world turned upside down. Eight years ago, this coming April, I began the slow journey back. I hadn’t written a book then. Since that time, I have finished penning three.

When I got sick, my daughter became frightened. Who wouldn’t be? It was the summer before her freshman year of high school, and she spent her vacation taking care of her mother who needed assistance walking and bathing. It didn’t matter what I told her, or how many reassurances were held out, she was terrified. All the soft gentle words and reassurances never made it past her fear wrapped worry.

Sometimes you need a story.

I wrote her a book about a girl who was afraid her mother would die and leave her alone. In the book, the mother does die. The girl is not left alone, however. She has family and unlikely heroes to depend on. I wrote my daughter a book to make her laugh and cry, but most of all to help her see she was not alone and it wasn’t up to her to save the world. I think maybe it was both comforting and uncomfortable for her to discover how much I understood her.

She’s not a character in a book, and she is not this character. But young girls everywhere get angry with their mothers, at times think they’ve been abandoned, and generally feel treated unfairly by life. They’re often surprised when they discover their mothers were once girls and understand all of these deeply held, secret feelings.

Among the pages of this made up place filled with pretend people my daughter finally understood what I was trying to tell her. She wasn’t alone.

Sometimes you need a story.

A funny thing happened. Out of the story, two more grew. Each of these novels stand alone, and while they don’t lean on each other, they do rub shoulders, exploring the lives of the various characters in the same fictional small Texas town.

It’s quite a surprise to find at the end of these eight years I have three complete novels. I’d freelanced in my former writing life, and even written a novella, which resides in the dark recesses of my computer files, but I’d never attempted a novel length work.

As my health improved and my responsibilities shifted, I had more time to write books. With each novel, I learned better and went back, refining and polishing. I hunted down critique partners and entered contests. I was quite pleased with the feedback I got. Now I’m ready to start querying agents.

I’m telling you this tale because, as with all of my stories, I want to encourage and bring hope to the reader. Because sometimes you need a story.

Donna Jo Stone writes YA contemporary novels about tough issues but always ends the stories with a note of hope. She blogs at donnajostone.com.

Click here to leave a comment

☕ Book Break ☕ |~Entwined by Heather Dixon~

~Entwined by Heather Dixon~
❤️
She wanted to give him toast. The sort that had melted butter and a bit of honey spread on top. It was a stupid thought, but there was something comforting about toast.
❤️
I can be agreeable,” said Fairweller. “If the other party is.”
“Oh, well,” said Bramble. “There goes that, then.”
❤️
If you want to break all the windows in the house and drown yourself in a bucket but don’t actually do it, well, that’s love.
❤️
I am rediscovering my love of fairytales. This was a delightful read. I love the way the author took an old favorite fairytale of the twelve dancing princesses and wobe a completely new story but retained echoes of the old classic.
❤️
The castle has a bit of magic around the edges, left over from the time when the evil king ruled. Azalea and her sisters are forced to give up everything for a year of morning when her mother dies. The hardest thing to give up is dance. Azalea discovers a secret passage way that leads to a magical place where she is free to dance, she returns again and again. She finds it she cannot give it up, even when the Keeper, Who rules this en chanted room begins to make her uncomfortable.
❤️
I was thoroughly entertained and enchanted by this novel. I love Azalea. It seems like she got the short end of the stick. Her mother dies and her dad, the king, checks out. The girls must all wear black. Azalea is of the age that she should be attending parties and balls, interacting with prospective suitors.
❤️
Father daughter relationships. Evil villains. Characters with strong personalities. Romances. Hardship. Enchantment. I love the sisters. I could clearly picture each one of the characters.
❤️
This was a long book that didn’t feel long. There were parts that were creepy, parts that were lovely, and lessons to be drawn. Well done.
❤️
The villain is quite dark compared to some fairy-tale versions, depending on what you’re used to. Those with younger readers may want to be aware. This fairy-tale is suitable for older teens. It really does depend on your experience and expectation. I usually find the fairy-tale retellings to be tamer than the original fairy tales I read when I was a child. Most of those did not end well.
If you are subscribe to my blog and getting too much mail, you can sign up for my newsletter instead. We can stay in touch and you’ll only get a few emails a year.
I have been trying to up my game on my Instagram. I’d love to know what you think. Stop by and see me on IG here.
Click here to leave a comment

☕ Book Break ☕ |~Holding Up The Universe by Jennifer Niven~

~Holding Up The Universe by Jennifer Niven~

“We’re all weird and damaged in our own way. You’re not the only one.” 

Libby Strout was once named “America’s Fattest Teen” but now she has gotten healthy enough to go to public school. Jack Masselin has no shortage of friends. But he has a secret, he’s face blind.

Prosopagnosia produces a great deal of stress and anxiety, and Jack keeps his problem hidden. It makes him look like a jerk much of the time. Libby had to be cut out of her house once, so she has her own issues she’d rather not bring into the spotlight. The two end up falling for each other.

I loved Libby’s outlook on life. She is determined to make the best of life. It took me a while to warm up to Jack. By the end, I felt for him.

The story idea is fantastic, and the portrayal of prosopagnosia was interesting. Libby’s plight broke my heart. Plenty of teenage introspection. Well written. It did seem to be heavy on the profanity, which I found distracting. Still, never once did I feel like abandoning the story, and the end was satisfying.

Click here to leave a comment

☕ Book Break ☕ |~The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas~

~The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas~

“Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right.” “What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?”

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Sixteen year old Starr is a witness to a police shooting. It is the second time she has watched a friend die from being shot. Starr must choose between silence or speaking out, putting herself, her family, and her community in danger.

This is a must read book. Emotionally charged, this book draws a clear picture of the experiences and point of view of too many of our citizens. I think it can help readers understand what is going on in our society today. Deeply thought-provoking, this novel is one I highly recommend. .
The first time I picked this book up I only read a couple of pages before putting it back down without ever reading the book description. This was before it became popular. I’m glad I revisited it. This one makes me think I should probably not be so quick in my book selections.

Finely crafted, important work. Recommended.

Click here to leave a comment

Book Review|Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

“Everything’s a risk. Not doing anything is a risk. It’s up to you”

“Just because you can’t experience everything doesn’t mean you shouldn’t experience anything.”

“One thing I’m certain of: wanting just leads to more wanting. There’s no end to desire.”

Maddy is allergic to the world and has spent her entire life isolated. Vigilantly protected by her physician mother and her private nurse, Maddy has no interaction with the outside world. Enter the cute, funny, new next-door neighbor boy.

Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon is a young adult novel written in first person present tense and moves along at a fast pace. I liked Yoon’s writing style and the story hook.

I was surprised at how short this book felt. It was a quick, easy read, except for moments of unbelievability that broke the flow of the story. I kept tripping over inconsistencies and had to  re-read passages. Olly, Maddy’s love interest, is a character I enjoyed reading about. He is cute, funny, and has his own baggage. The interplay between the two characters unfolds beautifully and the romance hits just the right note.

I liked the message of the need to take risks and to live your own life. While I could not connect with the main character, I think many young teen girls relate to Maddy and the idea of being confined or isolated, kept apart from the things they desire. What teenager doesn’t feel as if they are somehow outside of the norm?

 

I had to wonder what happened to all of Maddy’s friends. There was a mention of her online friends, and then we never hear from them. In Maddy’s situation, I would assume she would be in online support groups. It seemed a stretch that Maddy bought into her mother’s delusion without question. With a minimum of research, Maddy would have been able to figure out the inconsistencies and become suspicious that she was not really sick. I felt the nurse should have caught on as well, so this part of the story didn’t work for me.

The idea that someone who is ill lives a life completely separated as bubble people from the world and will never find love is annoying. In the story, Maddy is doomed until we find out that she is not really disabled. All along the illness has been a figment of her mother’s imagination. Maddy is “normal” and therefore now she can have a “normal” relationship with the boy she loves. I didn’t care for the message here.  I would make sure to point this out to my teen if they read this book, and affirm that people who have medical conditions or disabilities often find love. I would have rather seen them find a way to overcome, instead of the solution being that illness did not exist.

The teen romance is well written, and the conflict between parent and child echoes typical relationship issues. I read the book in one evening. The storyline was interesting and my attention never flagged. You might like this book if you enjoy short, contemporary teen romances.

 

Issues of concern

Profanity, sex, deception, illness, alcohol abuse, domestic violence, Munchhausen syndrome, mental illness.

 

 

Click here to leave a comment

To The Bone Netflix Movie Review

The Netflix film To The Bone is a drama that brings attention to the problem of eating disorders.

Nearly every book or movie about an eating disorder can be triggering for those who struggle with these issues. Use common sense and caution if this is a problem for you or your family member.

In To The Bone, the main character, Ellen, is given one last chance to get herself together. Her stepmother has enrolled her in an unconventional away from home treatment program.

Ellen has a love interest, a quirky male ballet dancer, Luke, who is also at the treatment center for anorexia. To fill out the group at the center, there are a few other anorexic girls and one binge eater. Ellen’s family life is complicated. She lives with her father, stepmother, Susan, and half-sister, Liana. The only good relationship that Ellen seems to have among her family members is with her half-sister. The father is never seen onscreen, leaving his wife to handle Ellen and her problems. Ellen’s mother, Judy,  lives in another city with her partner, Olive.

I felt the setup for the movie  was a bit stereotypical. The main character is a white female with obvious family issues and plenty of money to spend on treatment centers. Eating disorders affect people from all walks of life and this film did not represent those people. Even so, this movie is useful to educate in an entertaining way. The characters caught my attention and kept it to the end. I was left wanting to know more of their stories.

I liked the dark humor and the drama keep me watching. In the scene where her half sister asked Ellen to play a game, guessing the total calorie count on the plate without looking it up I had a bit of a flashback. During my junior high days and beyond, counting calories was a given for most girls as it is today. If think about it, I can still easily tally calories. I felt a certain affinity with her when she kept feeling her arm to see if her fingers would reach around for forearm. Did you do that in junior high?

Today, recognizing an eating disorder as an addiction may be a common reaction, but that was not the case when I was a teen and young adult. To The Bone draws attention to this problem and  attempts to broaden our understanding.

To The Bone takes us through a small part of one person’s journey. In the end, Ellen gathers her courage, surrenders, and takes charge of her own healing, and recognizes that she is never really alone. We are  left rooting for Ellen  to be successful in her quest for healing and health. There is a romantic element left unresolved as well, although the film ends on a note of hope. If To The Bone was made into a series I would want to check it out.

As a young girl and teen I had my own struggles with image and weight, alternately denying myself food and binging. I couldn’t starve out the pain, or cover it with fat. By the grace of God I found people who helped me find acceptance and emotional healing before it could develop into something worse. According to The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders approximately eight million people suffer with eating disorders. I’m not sure what the answer is, but pretending it doesn’t exist will certainly not help anyone.

Maybe, for your family, Netflix’s To The Bone can be a starting point to begin an important conversation.

This film is rated MA for mature audiences. If your teen is watching this film, I recommend you watch it with them and talk about the topic.

Contains profanity, irreverent humor, smoking, eating disorders, alcohol, family issues.

It was disturbing to think that Lily Collins, who plays Ellen and has an eating disorder herself, had lost weight for this role.  She talks about the weight loss for her role in this interview.

 

If you or someone you love has an eating disorder you can get help at or help at the National Eating Disorders website here or call the National Eating Disorders Helpline at (800) 931-2237.

Watch the trailer for Netflix’s To The Bone.

Did you watch? What did you think? Do you have any other films or books on eating disorders you recommend?

 

Click here to leave a comment

Book Review| Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

Book Review | Imaginary Girls

by Nova Ren Suma

Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma is a bit of a departure for me.

Ruby is the town darling and everyone wants to be her friend. Chloe is her younger sister. One night the teenagers of the town are partying and at Ruby’s urging, Chloe attempts to swim across the reservoir. In the darkness Chloe comes across a boat and discovers the body of her classmate, London. Chloe leaves town to go stay with her father. After two years, Ruby wants her sister to come home. Chloe returns to find London alive and well. Somehow, Ruby, who always gets her way, is involved.

I chose this book based on a recommendation by my library without really knowing what it was. Imaginary Girls is a novel about two sisters caught up in a paranormal mystery. The story is a haunting one. At first, I was a bit leery of it because suspense is not usually my thing, but two pages in I was hooked.

In this novel, it’s difficult to tell what is real and what is not. The prose is magnificent. This twisted tale of tragedy unfolds in a series of surreal events. Imaginary Girls leaves you slightly unbalanced, guessing right up to the end.

I recently re-read I Am The Cheese and perhaps it primed me for this type of story. Perhaps it’s been a while since I heard a good ghost story. This novel reminded me of how much I loved to spin, and hear, a good campfire tale. In any case, this story caught  my interest and held it to the last page. 

The story is told from the younger sister’s point of view. The characterization of the sisters and their relationship is a fascinating exploration of obsession. This novel combines a complicated sisterly bond with the strange other-worldliness of a dark, fantastical world and lyrical prose.

Imaginary Girls is rich in its characters and prose. It is not a fast-paced book, but is absorbing and intense. I do believe at one point in the book I actually shivered picturing the water of the reservoir. There is an eerie twilight zone vibe to this story.

Be forewarned, the characters in this novel do not behave well. There is much language. Imaginary Girls is for mature teens. If your teen is reading this book, I suggest you read it as well and discuss the issues and themes in the book.

Sex, drugs, alcohol abuse, death, language.

 

Click here to leave a comment

Book Review| Sugar by Deirdre Riordan Hall

 

Sugar

by Deirdre Riordan Hall

“I lean against the doorframe, heavy with the truth. I am always in the way. I’ve known this for as long as I can remember.”

“I’ve always been too much and yet not enough.”

“I know how to swim, but I feel like I’m drowning.”

I loved this young adult novel. I admit I had a hard time getting into this book at the beginning, but it wasn’t long before I was drawn into the plot. Sugar’s story resonated with me, and I am glad a friend recommended this novel. 

Sugar is a 17-year-old girl with an eating disorder. Home life is fraught with abuse both mental and physical. Sugar is a good girl. She tries with all her might to please her family, but they are never satisfied. She eats to fill the painful void left by rejection.

Other readers have mentioned that the middle of the novel dragged, but I didn’t notice this. I felt the story moved along at a sufficient pace and it kept my interest throughout. It actually kept me awake when I should have gone to bed!

Sugar was a quick read.  Deirdre Riordan Hall’s storytelling style is somewhat straightforward, but the story line and characters were engaging. I found myself rooting for Sugar.

The novel has a satisfactory ending, although tragedy (more tragedy!) does visit Sugar’s world. All the ends tie up nicely without it being too gooey-happy in the end. This is an empowering read for girls going through difficult times. Upon finishing the book, my overall feeling was one of hope. This is a story about rejection, how teens value themselves, and about overcoming.

Sugar’s battles tugged at my heart. This is one I categorize as must read for teens and adults simply because the character spoke volumes to me. It is a deceptively simple tale that delves deep. I found it an emotional read that stuck with me after I turned the last page.

With a caution for younger readers about topics covered, I would highly recommend this book for pre-teens, teens, and adults.

Topics:

Obesity, abuse, abandonment, bullying, assault, attempted rape, contains language, death, mentions of Catholic religion, prayers, rituals.

Deirdre Riordan Hall talks ‘Sugar’ and speaking up against bullies

Author’s Website

 

 

Linked up at

#LMMLinkup Literacy Musing Mondays

Click here to leave a comment

How to Talk With Teens About 13 Reasons Why

13 Reasons Why is the Netflix special everyone is talking about. The series is rated MA for mature audiences and explores suicide, bullying, sexual assault, and many other serious topics teens and young adults face. The series contains graphic depictions in some episodes. I have not read the book 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher yet, but it is my understanding that the book is significantly different. This post is about the Netflix series.

I searched for a discussion guide to go with the Netflix series but I am disturbed to find some had the tendency to minimize the issues. I found an excellent list of talking points to start meaningful discussion from the JED Foundation and provided that link below.

If you have any suggestions to add to my list, please put them in the comment section.

It seems a common thread among some of the people who discuss the series often include an element of denial. Instead of closing our eyes, perhaps a better way to address the issues brought up by 13 Reasons Why is to ask questions, listen, and guide our young people. If your teen or young adult has not watched, I still suggest parents look for ways to bring up the subject matter.

Thirteen Reasons Why is rated MA.

If your teen/young adult has already watched, I strongly suggest you watch each episode, stop, and discuss. Take time to process. This series deals with heavy topics and is emotionally draining.

Advice for Parents

Talking with kids can be hard. Decide what the most important topics are to bring up to your young person and ask questions, letting them do most of the talking. This is a time to offer guidance rather than lecture. Bring the topics up more than once.

I would be very honest with your young people. Perhaps not every person they go to for help will respond appropriately, but most adults are here to help. Sometimes asking once isn’t enough.

Relate a personal story to them if you have one and offer solutions.

Do not minimize your young person’s concerns and experiences.

Ask direct questions.

Talk to them. Not only once, but continually.

Know what they are watching.

I am not a mental health professional. The questions listed below are simply the type that can be used to start a dialog. Each of these suggested questions should lead to many more.

What did you take away from this story?

What do you think this series is about? Is it about more than one thing?(Some young people may miss that this story is driven by Hannah’s revenge against those she feels responsible for her suicide.)

Which of the characters seems the most balanced or healthy emotionally? Why do you think that is?

Are any of the depictions in this series believable? Which ones? Which actions are not?

What behaviors do each of the characters engage in that are questionable or plainly wrong? What should they have done? In this situation, what would you do?

What do you think you would do if you found yourself in some of the situations Hannah does?

How can you decide what secrets should be kept and which should be told? Who should you tell? Why or why not?

What are the signs of suicide? Other emotional issues?

How can you help someone who is suicidal?

How do our actions impact others? How do their actions impact us? How can we deal with that?

Who is the victim in this story? Is there more than one victim?

How does the school depicted compare to your school?

After each episode ask you young person for their takeaway, and what they thought. Examine the ideas put forth. Ask “what did you think” and “why or why not”.

If you seek help and are ignored or denied, what should you do then?

Does this story have a ‘call to action”? What is it?

Extension

What do you think of some of the reactions people have had to 13 Reasons? Can you give examples of appropriate/inappropriate reactions? Explain.

For further reading

Click here for a link to resources on 13 Reasons Why the Netflix Series from the National Association of School Psychologists

Click here for Talking Points from the JED Foundation.

 

Keep talking and discussing books, movies, and issues with your children and young adults.

 

Please add to the discussion by commenting below.

 

Click here to leave a comment