23 Sep

YA Cafe: Teens and Body Image

Posted in Reading, Teen Lit, YA Cafe

Welcome Back to YA Cafe, where book lovers can gather and chat about teen literature. I’m your barista, along with Ghenet from All About Them Words.

Each Friday we pick from a menu of topics and share our thoughts on our respective blogs. We’ve also got plans brewing for interviews, events and even some exciting giveaways, so stay tuned! Join the discussion by responding in the comments, on your own blogs or on twitter using the hash tag #yacafe.

Today, I’m going to get a little bit personal and I hope you bear with me.  Because, let’s face it, body image IS personal and for me, this topic has long been intertwined both with my emotional identity and my identity as a writer.  So here goes.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been an observer in my own life, an outsider, a perfectly-acceptable-looking but nothing-special kinda girl.  In fact, I think it’s no random coincidence that my current work-in-progress happens to be about a girl who’s totally ordinary.  Because that’s the role I often played as a teen.

I think this is why Halloween was such an important part of my teenage life.  I only stopped dressing up when I was well into graduate school.  From my very first Halloween as a baby where I dressed as a fortune-teller, through my teen years and early twenties, Halloween was one of the most important nights of my year.

I can still remember the Halloween costumes I wore as a teenager.  Age 13: Phantom of the Opera.  Age 14: Nathan Detroit from Guys and Dolls.  Age 15: A Brazilian soccer player (in honor of the World Cup the following summer).  Age 16: Hobbes from Calvin and Hobbes.  Age 17:  Robin Hood.  Looking back to the Halloween costumes of my high school years, it strikes me that they were all male personas, which is interesting in and of itself, but what’s more interesting is that the costumes themselves were complete opposites of my personality.

Phantom of the Opera: crazed-in-love and melodramatic.  Nathan Detroit: bumbling but charming New York gangster.  Brazilian soccer player: um, I’m the kid who purposely got “out” first when playing dodgeball so I could sit on the sidelines and read.  And Hobbes?  Well, I’ve always been more Calvin than Hobbes.  Robin Hood was the only costume I related to on some level… I don’t know why but taking from the “haves” and giving to the “have-nots” has always been a theme that really resonated with me.  (Those of you who’ve been around this blog long enough, will probably get a chuckle from that last understatement.)

Anyway, back to Halloween.  I think the reason Halloween was so important to me was that being somebody else for the day gave me permission to step into the limelight.  It was a way for me to abandon the quiet-Gabriela persona and take on a whole other personality.  It pulled me out of my usual observer role, making me an active participant in the world around me.  It was as though as long as I was in costume—as long as I was being somebody else—it was OK for me to draw attention to myself.  It was perfectly acceptable for Robin Hood to take center stage, but not so for ordinary Gabriela.

The truth is that, Halloween costumes or not, I never fit in.  It’s no coincidence that high school was about the time when I started keeping a regular journal, or as one of my classmates used to call it: “the b*tch book.”  When I was writing, nobody judged me based on how I looked.  It didn’t matter whether I’d mastered the art of eye-liner or if I was wearing the latest fashions from some teenie-bopper magazine.  Writing didn’t have visual and audible cues, like facial expression or even tone of voice.  All I had to work with were the words I put on the page and I was in complete control of what those words were.  Writing allowed me to be another person and I could see the world through her eyes.  Through this adopted identity, I could say and do things I would never do in real life.  It let me act out all the daring, crazy or even downright-bad behaviors I wished I could do without actually suffering the negative consequences.

My journal collection has now reached a total of close to thirty notebooks with the earliest one dating back to when I was in fourth grade.  I rarely reread these journals, and do so only when I need to remember a particular person or event.  Otherwise, I prefer to leave the past in the past and simply keep these journals as totems marking the various landmarks of my life.  They’re evidence, like existential graffiti.  “GABRIELA WUZ HERE.”  These journals are the proof.

I’ve often wondered what I would want done with them when I’m gone.  If someone else were to read them I would die of embarrassment, even if I was already dead.  At the same time, though, I couldn’t bear the idea of them being destroyed either.  No, I think I would want them to be locked away someplace, maybe in a glass case in a library where no one has the key.  That way people could know that they were there, but not actually see what was in them.  Then even in death, I could be pseudo-invisible.  The journals would exist and with them a record of my thoughts and opinions, but they would always be out of reach.  Of course the irony is that if this did happen, people would only see the covers of the journals and they would never know what’s inside.  I would be nothing more than a book being judged by its cover, and is that what I really want to be?

To read Ghenet’s take on body image as a teen, check out her YA Cafe post.  Also, don’t forget to share what makes you beautiful and embrace your awesomeness with the hash tag #whatmakesmebeautiful on Twitter.


22 Sep

KidLit and TeenLit Books on Body Image

Posted in Kid Lit, Literature, Reading, Teen Lit


Today, as promised, I have a list of books I’ve discovered that deal with the subject of body image for teens and middle grade.  This list was tough to put together because as I’ve mentioned before, there are very few books that address this topic.  Below is what I have so far.  If you think of any other books that should be on this list, leave a comment and I’ll update the post.  Here’s my list (in no particular order and with links to Goodreads):


Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
by Sarah Darer Littman
North of Beautiful
by Justina Chen Headly
More Than You Can Chew
by Marnelle Tokio
The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things
* by Carolyn Mackler
* by Scott Westerfeld
Reasons to Be Happy
* by Katrina Kittle
by Amy Kathleen Ryan
by Judy Blume
Best Little Girl in the World
by Steven Levenkron
Operation Beautiful
by Caitlin Boyle
Bestest. Ramadan. Ever.
by Medeia Sharif

(Note: Books marked with a * are ones I myself have read and would recommend.  All other books have been recommended to me by you all!)  Also, if you’re still looking for more body image books (particularly ones dealing with eating disorders), here’s a list I found on Goodreads: YA Eating Disorder Books


21 Sep

Katrina Kittle Guest Post: Writing Tough Subjects for Young Readers

Posted in Literature, Reading, Writing

Reasons To Be Happy

Hello everyone!  Today, following our Body Image theme, I’ve got the fabulous Katrina Kittle here to tell us about what it was like to write her new book: Reasons To Be Happy.  This book–which literally had me in tears–deals with body image and eating disorders, and does so in a way that young readers can really relate.  What makes Reasons To Be Happy so unique is that it addresses these issues for such a young age group.  This is not the first book to deal with heavy subjects for middle grade readers–nor will it be the last, I’m sure–but given how rare it is to find books like this, I jumped at the chance to host Katrina here at iggi&gabi and learn about her experience writing the book.  Now without further ado, here’s Katrina!

Thanks so much for hosting me, Gabi!

I’ve always been drawn to tough subjects, I think, but I don’t really choose them based on how dark or tough they are. I’m fascinated by human resilience. One of my favorite quotes is from Ernest Hemingway. He said, “The world breaks everyone. And, afterwards, some are

strong at the broken places.” I just love that. All of my stories are in some way or another about people becoming stronger at their broken places. Because, let’s face it, life kicks us all in the teeth at some point or another. Some people don’t just survive, but go on to thrive after their struggle. I think every novel I’ve ever written shares that theme. I’m far more interested in the “stronger at” part of that quote than the “broken” part. I don’t choose tough topics to drag readers to dark places. I choose them for the redemption and hope at the recovery and outcome.

I’ve written four novels for adults, but Reasons to Be Happy is my very first venture into writing for a younger audience. I tried not to change my approach or process too much. All of my stories have begun with a social issue I care deeply about (and because I’m such a sucker for comeback stories, second chance stories, and phoenix stories, those issues tend to be tough ones). I’ve written about AIDS, addiction, divorce, child abuse, and now, with Reasons, body image and eating disorders. Although the issue is always my seed for a story, I then work to create a cast who would populate a story about that issue, because a novel must be a story above all else—it can’t just be a public service announcement! This felt even more crucial for a tween audience than for my adult audiences. No one wants to be lectured, after all, and because I was a middle school teacher for several years, I know that middle schoolers in particular have a built-in resistance to stories “with a lesson” for them. If you’re patronizing them, they can smell it a mile away.

It’s more satisfying for the reader if any discoveries and revelations come through the character, not from me. I hoped readers, young women especially, would identify with Hannah’s doubts, fears and struggles, and maybe think about Hannah’s mistakes (and then, a writer’s dream—to apply that knowledge to their own lives). My goal is always to invite the reader to think about the issue, but not necessarily tell them what to think about the issue. One of the greatest joys, for readers of any age, is to  have something to discuss at the end of a book. Discussion isn’t possible if everything is too black-and-white with no room interpretations and perspectives.

In early drafts, I made the mistake of “watering down” and playing it too safe. A wonderful editor encouraged me to “forget your audience.” That sounds crazy,

right? But she said, “I picture you picturing this room full of middle school girls. Forget them. Just write the novel you’d always write. The only difference is that all the protagonists happen to be in middle school.” This advice really spoke to me and allowed me stop trying to “filter” for the tween audience. Those attempts to filter will always show and will inevitably be insulting.

Don’t get me wrong. Of course there is a difference in presenting tough subject matter for a tween audience and an adult audience. But for me the key was my protagonist. Especially since Hannah tells the story in first-person, the only “filter” I needed was her. She tells the story with her perspective and understanding of events, not mine. That became important in revision: I would comb through looking for lines or passages that were colored by my own, more experienced viewpoint. When I found them, they had to go. Hannah could only know what she would know as an eighth grader with her own life experience so far.

The overall hope for any story, though, is the same no matter what age you’re writing for. Above all else, I sincerely hope readers are entertained by the journey. Another quote I love (I heard it in a writing lecture once, but have no idea who to attribute it to!): “A novel is not a message clamped to a passenger pigeon’s leg. It should be the experience of watching that pigeon fly from A to B.”

Katrina Kittle


Thank you so much Katrina for being here today!
For anyone who would like to learn more about Katrina check out her website:
You can also follow her on Twitter:
Or visit her facebook page: www.facebook.com/KatrinaKittleFanClub

For more information on Reasons To Be Happy (and to find a list of reasons to be happy for every day), visit the blog: http://katrinakittle.blogspot.com
Also, you can follow the Twitter hash tag: #reasonstobehappy




20 Sep

Body Image in Literature

Posted in Literature, Reading

The topic of body image has been on my mind a lot lately. Maybe it’s because being pregnant, I’m suddenly more aware of my body than every before (mostly since there’s more of me to love so I’m constantly bumping into things.)  Or maybe it’s because I’m thinking more about how I want to raise my kid.  How am I going to help him develop healthy food and exercise habits?  How will I help him feel confident in his own body?  These are all questions that had been bouncing around my brain.

This issue–which I think just about every kid and teen dealt with at some point in their lives–is one that should be discussed in children’s and teen literature.  What shocks me, though, is that when it comes the number of novels that actually address body image, there are shockingly few.  Sure, you can find shelves upon shelves of diet books or nutrition books, but that’s not what kids and teens are reading, right?

This week, I have decided to dedicate some time and space on my blog to discussing this very important issue.  Wednesday, I’ll be hosting the awesome Katrina Kittle, author of Reasons to Be Happy, which is a book that addresses body image distortion (and eating disorders) for middle grade readers.  As you may already know, just as there are few books that deal with body image for kids in general, most of the books that do address this issue are targeted to teens.  The fact that Reasons to Be Happy is written for a younger audience really makes it unique among body image books.

Thursday I plan to post a list of books for kids and teens that address body image.  I already have a few on my list, but would love to hear your suggestions as well.  If you have suggestions for books to put on the list, please leave a comment below!  My hope is that if we all put our heads together, we can come up with a solid list of books that deal with this issue.  Finally, on Friday Ghenet and I will be discussing body image in teen literature, in our weekly YA Cafe post.

Starting with today’s post, I’ll be running a series about body image in kid’s and teen literature.  My goal is to start a dialogue where we can discuss how books for kids and teens handle body image and also how we, as writers and adults, can play a positive role in helping kids feel confident in their own bodies.  But more importantly, for us to be role models, we must also recognize that we are beautiful, just as we are.

Which is why this week, if you’re on twitter, please join the conversation. I’ll be using the hash tag #whatmakesmebeautiful to share tweets about ways I’ve become confident in my own body image, and I invite you to do the same.  So tell me, what makes you beautiful?


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