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I thought it ever so appropriate that I was chosen to represent District 10 in Smart Pop Book's Panem-Style Reaping Giveaway for the new anthology THE GIRL WHO WAS ON FIRE - Your Favorite Authors On Suzanne Collins'Hunger Games Trilogy.

After all, I'm a former farmer's wife who spent 10 years in South West England amongst the cows in the beautiful Bride Valley in Dorset.

Cows grazing in the Bride Valley, Dorset (Photo: Ben Pentreath)

I was thrilled when I was asked to be a part of this anthology, because it gave me a chance to expand upon a blog post I'd written about my take on the political undertones in MOCKINGJAY just after I'd finished reading it. Politics and YA fiction. It doesn't really get a whole lot better than that. You can read an excerpt of my essay, The Politics of Mockingjay, here.

And now I get to give away TWO COPIES of the anthology to YOU! And that means ALL of you, wherever in the world you might reside. No ethnocentrism here!

Here's what you do to enter: The BookPage blog asked Suzanne Collins: What do you hope these books will encourage in readers?

Her answer: I hope they encourage debate and questions. Katniss is in a position where she has to question everything she sees. And like Katniss herself, young readers are coming of age politically.

In the comments, tell me if a book has ever inspired you to think about and even challenge the status quo.

Have at it, Rabble Rousers!

Edited:I realized it's unfair of me to ask you without telling you about a book that's made me think. Probably my biggest influence was ANIMAL FARM, by George Orwell. My son just played Old Major in a brilliant production at his school, and I still get goosebumps when I hear that final sentence, which is so simple yet one of the most memorable lines ever.

I also think Orwell's essay POLITICS AND THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE should be mandatory reading for every high school student in a democracy.

Edited again 4/2 You guys are giving me such great answers!! Thank you! I love that there are so many different books that have challenged your thinking. Except now my TBR list is even LONGER...

Winners will be picked by Random.org, and will be announced on April 5th.
This year, for the second time, I was privileged to be a National Judge for the 2011 Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards. I was particularly excited to be a judge in a category that resonated so much with me in both my author and political columnist lives, the new Creativity and Citizenship: Art for Social Change Award.

Here's what the award is about:

From the women's suffrage movement to the civil rights movement to saving the environment, Americans have used the arts to create an awareness of history and promote social change. Teens in grades 7 – 12 are encouraged to submit their works of art and writing that address contemporary social issues important to them. Three winners will be selected to receive $1,000 scholarships and select works will be included in the National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards Teen Exhibition in June 2011. This special award is presented in collaboration with the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

It was such an honor to be a judge for these awards because of the feeling of hope I felt reading these works. They were as diverse in style and subject as the composition of our nation itself. These were not the voices of teens who are only obsessed with celebrity and Jersey Shore and who is going to win American Idol. These writers were keen observers of what is going on in not just in the US but in countries across the globe. Whether they chose poetry, script writing, persuasive essay, personal memoir or fiction, the teenagers in this category were concerned with deep issues of social justice,losing a valued cultural heritage, the mistreatment of women, feeling displaced in one's own neighborhood by gentrification. Their writing made me cry, made me angry, made me want to reach through my computer screen to hug them and tell them "Don't give up! Your words give you a voice, and a voice gives you power!"

My sincere thanks to the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers for inviting me to be a judge this year.

Today at 12 noon, you're invited to join me and several other national writing Jurors including two of my favorite writing peopleOlugbemisola Rhuday Perkovich and Courtney Sheinmel. Tune in to: http://tweetchat.com/room/JurorChat

NY Teen Author Festival Recap

Last week was the third Annual New York Teen Author Festival and I was lucky to be a part of some of the awesome festivities.

On Thursday, I headed to DA BRONX to the Bronx Library Center as part of the Five Borough Read. I was on a panel with The Woman of Many Voices Maryrose Wood (note to debut authors - always try to read BEFORE Maryrose, because she is a seriously tough act to follow!!) and two fantastic debut authors, Margie Gelbwasser and Arlaina Tibensky.

It was the first time in my writing career (I hope not the last) that I've ever felt like a rock star. When we walked into the auditorium, there were already some sixth graders from Jonas Bronck Academy there, and some of the girls asked "Which one is Sarah?"

It's probably because my first writing gig was as a controversial political columnist, but my inner reaction is "Who wants to know?" I get that same reaction when I meet adults and they ask "Oh, are you the one who writes in the paper?" because I'm never sure if they're going to say they love my column or start ranting about how they think I'm a terrorist lover who is destroying America in 650 words a fortnight.

But I 'fessed up to being me, and I was so glad I did, because they'd apparently read PURGE aloud in class for a unit on body image and eating disorders and it had been a big hit. I'd brought a bunch of my Purge bookmarks, so I told the girls I'd sign them and soon I had a long line of fans waiting for their bookmarks BEFORE the reading. This has NEVER happened to me before and it was a pretty amazing experience.

The panel was terrific. I can't wait to read Arlaina's book, AND THEN THINGS FELL APART. The excerpt she read was hilarious, with fantastic voice. I blurbed Margie's book, INCONVENIENT, so you know I loved it - and so did the Sydney Taylor Committee, who made it a Notable Book this year. And Maryrose's book, THE HIDDEN GALLERY, the second in her Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series, is too funny. I tried so many times as a kid to get the Palace guards with the Busbys to speak or smile and never succeeded, so I am jealous. Supremely jealous, I tell you!

I read an excerpt from my upcoming novel WANT TO GO PRIVATE? After the panel, one girl came up, so sweet and obviously really worried, and asked me: "What happens to the girl after she gets into the car?" I felt incredibly mean telling her, "I can't tell you - you have to read the book."

Was that wrong? I couldn't exactly say, "Don't worry, she'll be okay," because clearly Abby (the MC) isn't going to come out of the experience unscathed. Oh man. This author thing is really hard sometimes.

The best part was later that day, I got an email from one of the girls who'd been at the panel, saying she'd been to my website. She told me she was the one who'd asked me the question about how I'd got through my bulimia, and that I was her role model.

My kids would probably laugh to think that I'm anyone's role model - in fact I find it pretty intimidating - but it gave me a warm, snuggly feeling inside getting that email. One that will keep me going through the days when I struggle with finding words or my inevitable bad review from Kirkus (I'm three for three so far - why mess with a winning formula!)

Friday morning was Scholastic Day! We met at the house of the Big Red Dog for an internal reading for the awesome Scholastic peeps.

That's National Book Award winner Judy Blundell in foreground and Awesome Scholastic Peeps in background

Kim Harrington and my fave Spork, Natalie Standiford!

Then it was over to the New York Public Library for the Symposium. I was on Telling the Truths – Hard Topics, Illuminating Fiction with fab authors: Eireann Corrigan, Donna Freitas, Kimberly Marcus and Micol Ostow. It was a terrific panel but after being on the Grief panel last year and the Hard Truths panel this year, I told David I want to be on the Happy Song and Dance panel with Fluffy Bunnies next year. Hence the Funny YA I'm working on.

I took Saturday off to actually, yanno, see my kids, and celebrate the fact that MY SON GOT INTO COLLEGE!!!!!!! *happiest of all happy dances*

Then Sunday it was the Authorpalooza Books of Wonder signing. Now this is my third year of these mass signings, and I've learned from experience that they can be...er...somewhat hard on the author soul. I told my debut author friend who asked me about it how last year I was sitting next to Barry Lyga. Now I love sitting next to Barry Lyga. He's funny and charming and extremely entertaining. He told me I could touch his junk before he would let me touch his iPad 2. (That was this year. Last year there were no iPad 2s.) But in terms of signing books next to him? Well, he had HORDES, and I mean HORDES of fans clamoring to get their books signed. And I sat there twiddling my Sharpie trying not to feel like the loser I was in middle school.

Barry was his usual awesome self though. He told me about how he once signed next to STEPHENIE MEYER.
"You know, Sarah. Sometimes you're the windshield, and sometimes you're the bug," he said.
I'm not sure what he meant, but it sounded really profound, so I agreed. I figured I was the bug.

Well, this year, do you think I was the windshield or the bug?

A picture tells a thousand words:

Me, bugging it up between two awesome windshields, David Levithan and E. Lockhart

Still, I had fun.

One of the great things about the Books of Wonder signing was finally getting to meet people I knew from Twitter in real life! Like @cialina!

I love Cialina for many reasons but particularly here because she made me feel really TALL. This is not something that happens to me very often and now that both my teenagers are taller than I am and lord that fact over me constantly, it was lovely to put my arm around someone and actually be...*sniff* taller than them! So thank you, C!!! (((hugs)))

So now it is back to BIC. But stay tuned!!! All sorts of exciting things coming up on ze blog, including next Tuesday, a chance to win THE GIRL WHO WAS ON FIRE: Your Favorite Authors On Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games Trilogy, including my essay, The Politics of Mockingjay!
I'm reposting here my column from today's Stamford Advocate, because I think it's one of the most important ones I've ever written:

When one of my kids became involved with a theater production run under the auspices of a local Catholic church, I offered to volunteer with backstage help. In order to do so, I had to attend a mandatory 3-hour workshop on child sexual abuse awareness called "Protecting God's Children."

I was pleased that the church was taking such stringent measures, but didn't think the course had much to teach me. As a victim of child sexual abuse myself and further, having just researched and completed a young adult novel about Internet predators, "Want to go Private," I'm quite knowledgeable about the warning signs, the grooming process, and the need for constant vigilance. In fact, due to my own experiences, I'm probably hyper-vigilant. There were times, particularly when my children were the ages at which I had been abused, that I had to seek therapy because my anxiety about being able to protect them from harm was so acute.

Yet I ended up learning things I wish I hadn't. I learned that there are still people who believe that a larger percentage of kids lie than the statistics quoted and who are more concerned about potentially destroying the life and reputation of an adult than protecting a child.

I wanted to stand up and scream, "What is the matter with you people?" I wanted to grab the microphone from the moderator and, instead of the actors and actresses that portrayed victims of sexual abuse in the church's video, have them hear about the impact of child sexual abuse from someone real, live, in their community, who has lived with the consequences: depression, bulimia and attempted suicide, but has finally through therapy, hard work, and determination, come through the other side.

But instead, I sat there mute. Because no matter how many years have passed (it's been decades), no matter how many years of therapy I've had (many), no matter how well I think I'm doing (pretty awesome, thanks) in certain situations I can be thrown right back into that feeling of paralyzing helplessness, of feeling like I'm a confused, scared child in the darkness, a child without a voice.

When I got home, I was devastated. I stayed up, distraught and sobbing, until 1 a.m. I was angry that people didn't understand how doubting a child's word makes them feel like they're being abused all over again. I was angry that despite all the hard work I've done for years to put this thing behind me, despite my thinking that I've dealt with it, all it took was watching a few videos and hearing a few people say insensitive things to bring me right back to the Me I Was Before. Such is the nature of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

But mostly, I was angry with myself, because I'm not that small, helpless, voiceless child in the darkness anymore. I'm a strong, successful, woman who worked damned hard to learn to use her words.

That's why, despite this being a deeply personal and difficult issue, I chose to write this column.

Recently, my book "Life, After" was named a Sydney Taylor Honor Book for Teens along with an incredibly important book called "Hush." The author writes under the pseudonym Eishes Chayil, or "A Woman of Valor," which indeed she is.

The main character in "Hush" is Gittel, who grows up in an unnamed Chassidic Jewish community (the author specifically intends it to be non-specific, because as she says, "all are guilty") and witnesses the sexual abuse of her best friend by a family member. For the sake of both families' reputations (critical to making a good marriage) she is told that nothing happened and she should be silent. Then her best friend, Devory, kills herself.

As she matures, Gittel struggles with the consequences of silence, both her own and the communal silence, where the reputations of adults are prized over the sanctity of a child. While based on an Orthodox Jewish community, it has powerful lessons for everyone, of every faith and every community -- and sadly, there are too many people who still need to learn them.

Read more: http://www.greenwichtime.com/default/article/Littman-Too-many-still-ignorant-about-child-995275.php#ixzz1D0bzZycM


I've been seriously neglectful of my blog,*dusts off and waves to blog land* but anyone who follows me on Facebook or Twitter will know that I've had some, well, shall we call it ANGST about Snooki's book deal.

I mean, first there's the fact that she GOT a book deal. Then, there was the trailer.

"My castmates are very surprised that I'm an author, because they didn't even know I read books, but like I said on Ellen, I can go to frickin Barnes and Nobles and sit down and get a coffee and read a book, so for America and everyone to see that I'm writing a book, I feel like it's a big accomplishment for me."

1) reading a book at frickin Barnes and Noblesdoes not make you an author.

2) You didn't even write the frickin book.Your frickin ghostwriter did

3) I'm not sure which is going to kill me first - laughing or vomiting - when I read the utter and complete crap you (and your ghostwriter) wrote.

We non-celebrity authors spend years in anonymity working hard to hone our craft. If we're lucky, we get a book deal. If we're even luckier, maybe that book achieves some modest success, mostly from word of mouth from readers, independent booksellers, bloggers and librarians, because Lord knows, unless your book happens to be chosen as a lead title, you're not going to get a lot of love from your publisher. Most of us don't have our publishers make our book trailers for us. We do our own.
And we certainly don't get appearances on Letterman and the Today Show.

Which brings me to why I'm finally at WAR with you and MS-NBC. For years, the day after the Newbery and Caldecott awards were announced, we've been able to look forward to seeing the winners honored the following morning with an appearance on the Today Show.

But this year, apparently, the traditional appearance by the award winners was nixed due to "a lack of interest and scheduling problems."

Who did they have instead? The spray tanned one. Frickin' Snooki, that's who.

Can we just have a collective "WTF?!!!!"

At a time when we bemoan falling test scores, everyone blames teachers, and that very network will be running a WHY KIDS CAN'T READ segment in 3-2-1, they chose to go with the barely literate, barely dressed woman who promotes heavy drinking and indiscriminate sex over the finest children's literature in the country?


We need to show them just how wrong they were. Please join me in writing, calling or emailing MSNBC and expressing your displeasure with this appalling lack of judgment on their part.

You can email the Today show at: TODAY@nbc.com.
You can write to them by post at 30 Rockefeller Plaza New York, NY 10112.
You can place a telephone call to them at (212) 664-4602.

Here's my email:

As a person who makes my living with words, I still cannot find adequate expression of my disgust that you chose to invite the ubiquitous SNOOKI on the Today show in lieu of the traditional segment on the Newbery and Caldecott winners. In a few months time, when you do a segments on "Why kids' aren't reading?" or "The dumbing down of America," you can just look in the mirror and realize that you, The Today Show, are part of the problem, rather than the solution.
Disgusted. Absolutely Disgusted.

I hope that next January we will see our ALA Award winners back on the Today Show where they belong, and that Snooki has faded back into anonymity.

The best gifts come from the heart

Last Friday I was fortunate to take part in an event sponsored by Kappa Kappa Gamma, the sorority I belonged to at Duke. We visited K through 1 kids in the after school program at the George Washington Carver Center in Norwalk, and gave them books to keep of their very own from the organization so near and dear to all of our hearts, Reading is Fundamental. (BTW, if you haven't responded to RIF's latest action alert, please do so NOW by clicking here.

From Blogpics

Dr. Susan Weinberger, (aka "Dr. Mentor") a former assistant Superintendent of Schools in Norwalk and founder of the Mentor Consulting Group read the featured book aloud in such an engaging way - she had the kids wagging their fingers and responding to the book's signature line with brio.

Before rewarding them with cupcakes, we did a craft. I'd suggested something that we have them make their own books, which they could write a few reasons why they loved someone special in their life and give it to them as a gift. My kids had done something like that for me at their age in school, and I still treasure those books - especially the observations like: "My mom is always reading books"and "My mom makes the best chocolate chip cookies in the whole world." :-)

As I moved around the room helping some of the kids to write, what became heartrendingly apparent were the stories between the lines of what I was writing. The stories where Mom and Dad didn't really figure - but thankfully there was an aunt or a grandparent who was a steady figure for the child. I wanted to hug all these kids but I also wanted to thank the person they were having me write to for being there for them.

Well, last night for Hanukkah, my son gave us a book of his own. I got all verklempt reading it, because it was about this:

Son is clearly thinking about the creature comforts that will be lacking in a college dorm, because the first few things were:

See - everyone thought that when I put chauffeur in my author bio it was a joke. They were WRONG!!!

I like that he at least REALIZES it :-)
But this is what made me start getting all teary eyed.

Because it made me realize that Son doesn't just love me for my cooking and my driving skills. And that all this hard work ain't been in vain for nothing, because I've raised a young man who, while he might not yet have mastered separating his darks from his lights (we still have till next September to work on that) is thoughtful and inquisitive, has a thirst for knowledge, and CARES about what is going on in the world.

And he knows what's important - because he's going to miss:

We're going to miss him, too. :-(

But we'll always be here, with Mum's cooking and his bed and the dogs, and yes, the laundry machines, waiting for him to come home to be spoiled during his breaks.

And now, I'm getting all teary eyed again, so I'm off to find the box of tissues.

The astounding hypocrisy of book banners

Libraries and bookstores across the country have been marking Banned Books Week, the national celebration of our freedom to read held annually by the American Library Association. It comes at a time when that freedom is under attack more than ever.

In 1982, The Supreme Court ruled in Island Trees School District Board of Ed vs. Pico: “Local school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books.”

Yet across the country, books with recognized literary merit are being removed from the shelves due to the demands of a vocal few.

Recently, in Missouri, Wesley Scroggins, an associate professor at Missouri State University wrote an op-ed piece in the Springfield News-Leader Filthy Books Demeaning to Republic Education in which he deplored the use of such classics as Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five and Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak. Scroggins also objected to sex education, wanting it completely banned from schools, because kids were taught about reproduction and how to use condoms. The horror. He objected to high school history classes viewing “Saving Private Ryan” because of “offensive (and violent) content.”

In a lengthy presentation to the school board, Scroggins included excerpts from the offending books with the “filth” highlighted, and concludes: “Requiring children to be exposed to this content at school is immoral. It is an abomination to God to expose children to this material and this content will never be part of a moral education.”

One imagines people like Scroggins sitting in their caves of “morality” with highlighter pens, looking for the naughty bits in books and completely missing the forest for the trees.
But it’s got me wondering if Mr. Scroggins has actually read his own Good Book. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat in synagogue reading the weekly portion thinking, Wow. Some of this stuff is pretty out there.

If I went through the Bible with a highlighter pen taking passages out of context, I could find an abomination or two. I’ll give you a few choice examples just from Genesis - Chapter 6:21, in which Noah sets a bad example: “And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent.” Drunkeness and nudity in front of the kids. Tut, tut, tut!

Let’s move on to Chapter 19:8 – the wicked men of Sodom have come to Lot’s door, wanting to do the nasty with two angels who are guests in his house. What does Lot do? He offers them his virgin daughters instead! “Behold now, I have two daughters that have not known man; let me I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do yet to them as is good in your eyes, only unto these men do nothing.” A guy giving up his virgin daughters to be gang raped to save a pair of angelic male strangers. Yeah, just what I want my teenaged daughter to read. Really empowering message there.

Oh, but the Lot story gets even better in verses 31-36. Lot’s shacked up in a cave with the aforementioned daughters, who realize that Daddy Dearest is the only guy left “to come into us after the matter of all the earth.” They take turns getting him drunk and “knowing” him so they can “preserve his seed.” Thus, we learn in v36, “were both the daughters of Lot with child with their father.”

Seriously, if I wrote a YA novel with only a fraction of the “situations” in the Bible, the Wesley Scroggins set would be brandishing the highlighters and screaming for it to be pulled from the shelves. It’s their narrow-minded hypocrisy that it is the real “abomination to G-d.”

Personally I think every high school student should be required to watch the opening scene of “Saving Private Ryan”. Our elected leaders should watch it every time they make a decision that puts our servicemen and women at risk. Because war is offensive, violent and horrific.

"Free people read freely," Barbara Jones, the director of the ALA's Office of Intellectual Freedom said. "It's part of the Constitution. You may not want to read a particular book, but don't try to prevent your neighbor from reading it…We have a motto: 'Learn, not burn.' "

Amen to that, sister. Books expose kids – and grownups – to the broader world around them and challenge their thinking. And often, in the words of Oscar Wilde, “The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame.”
I wrote a blog post yesterday over at the YA Contemps about Trusting your Gut, in conjunction with the release of April Henry's new release GIRL, STOLEN, which I seriously cannot WAIT to read once I finish editing first pass proofs of WANT TO GO PRIVATE? and revising my graphic novel proposal.

Writing that post got me thinking about WHY it took me so long (into my forties) to REALLY learn to trust my gut. An email discussion with a high school friend last night cemented my thoughts on the issue, and made me realize that even though this is a hard post to write, it's a necessary one.

Did you know that one in three girls and one in five boys will have been sexually abused by the time they reach 18 years of age? Did you know that approximately one third of those victims are under the age of six?

*raises hand*

I do, because I was one of them.

When I look at the list of abuse symptoms, I've experienced some of them - not all. Some, I experienced on and off my whole life. Others more as a teenager. Still others waited to rear their ugly heads until the birth of my own children, particularly my daughter, made me fearful and anxious almost to the point of neurosis that someday this might happen to them and I WOULDN'T BE ABLE TO PROTECT THEM.

Yes, I had low self-esteem. Yes, I grew up thinking that I was defective. Yes, I ended up self-medicating with drugs and alcohol when I was in high school. Today I probably would have been put on prescription medication, and that would have been a good thing, because it really does the trick. But perhaps the worst thing my abuser did - and this continued in subsequent abusive relationships - was to damage, at a very young age, my all important gut instinct.

When you're a very young child, you trust adults to look after you and to be the good guys. Like many abusers, mine was known to our family and welcomed into it. To all appearances, he just doted on me. As my brother said many, many years later, "You were always his favorite." No one knew the price I paid in the middle of the night for the treats and the attention he paid me, and I was too young to really understand what it all meant. All I knew was that I didn't like that part of it. It made me uncomfortable and felt wrong.

Later, when I did come to understand, I was silent. It took me years to speak up about what had happened to me, and at first I always did it in the third person - "It happened to her."

The stage was already set though, for future abusive relationships. I was imprinted with the legacy of a man who was kind one minute and then hurt me the next. I think a big reason for this was because I didn't trust my own inner voice when it spoke to me.

Later, that distrust wasn't just because of my own insecurities. It was reinforced by the dysfunctional relationships I was in. When someone is constantly telling you that you're the crazy one, that your reality is the one at fault, you eventually start to believe them. After all, I was always the one on meds. I was always the one having to see a therapist. So I must be the one who was crazy, right?

But you know what? I finally realized, after a major crisis which required me to reexamine every assumption I'd every made about myself and my life in order to pick myself up off the ground and heal, that maybe, just maybe, I WASN'T the crazy one after all. I mean, yeah, I have my issues just like everyone else, but when it comes down to it, I'm actually pretty sane. (I can hear my kids and my boyfriend laughing when they read this, but humor me, my darlings ... ;-)

Once I had that epiphany, it took a HUGE amount of work, doing what my therapist called "reality testing" until I was finally able to trust my gut. What is reality testing? Well, a situation would occur and my gut would tell me, "This isn't right...I think X is correct."
But maybe someone would tell me "No, you've got this all wrong, actually Y is correct." And they would say it so forcefully and consistently that I'd start to doubt myself. But then I'd go to my therapist and explain the situation and she'd say to me when X was correct or if I'd misread the situation and really it was Y.

It was critical when I started dating after my divorce. I was sooo relationship shy, and really worried about falling into a dysfunctional situation. When issues came up I could reality test if I was being irrational because the new relationship was pushing old buttons that I still needed to work on, or if I actually wasn't being irrational and there was an issue that needed to be resolved. Reality testing allowed me to finally, in my mid-forties, learn to trust my gut, a skill that had been robbed from me in my early childhood.

That's the reason why my novel PURGE is dedicated to my therapist, Nancy Thode. Through our work together she gave me a priceless gift - the ability to trust in myself. For that, I can't thank her enough.
I just finished reading I AM NUMBER FOUR by Pittucus Lore (aka James Frey, of "A Million Little Pieces" fame and Jobie Hughes. I'm not a big reader of SciFi/Dystopian novels, other than The Hunger Games series, of which I'm a huge fan. Oh yeah and the Susan Beth Pfeffer books. This book got so much hype, having sold film rights before it was published blah blah, and I thought the premise was fascinating, so I thought I'd give it a whirl. It's a fast-paced read, and I can see reluctant readers enjoying it. The environmental message was laid on pretty heavy-handedly, and the character development was meh. But the plot kept me reading. It was the sci-fi beach read, if you know what I mean.

But one passage *really* annoyed me. The main character, John, one of 9 special children who escaped from the planet Lorien, has fallen in love with a human girl, Sarah, and he's talking to his guardian Henri about the possibilities of alien/human love.

It reminded me some of a conversation I had with my late great-uncle Sidney about how it was one thing to date a non-Jew, but when it came down it I had to marry a nice Jewish boy. But then John asks Henri what happens when the Loric try to have children with humans.

Henri answers:

It's happened many times before. Usually it results in an exceptional and gifted human. Some of the greatest figures in Earth's history were actually the product of humans and the Loric, including Buddha, Aristotle, Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein."

I read that and got pretty steamed, because most of the people on this list are actually on another list - a list of historical figures who are thought to have had Asperger's Syndrome. Da Vinci, Newton, Alexander the Great, Jefferson and Einstein - all of them are on multiple lists of people who would have been diagnosed with AS had it been a diagnosis at the time they lived.

Comparing Aspies to aliens isn't new. Temple Grandin famously described herself as "an anthropologist on Mars" when involved in social interactions - the phrase subsequently became the title of neurologist Oliver Sacks well-known book. An online community and resource for Aspies started by a college kid with Aspergers is called Wrong Planet.

But still - as the mother of one of these "exceptional and gifted humans" I happen to know full well that my son's birth had nothing to do with mating with an alien. No one knows exactly what causes Asperger's and/or Autism. I suspect there is some genetic component, because as I look around my family and my ex-husband's family, there are a variety of neurological disorders that, depending on how they are expressed, are diagnosed in different ways. In my totally non-scientific layman's terms, I think different people in the families have had different "switches" if you like turned on, and depending on the configuration, they might be diagnosed with bipolar, OCD, dyslexia, ADD, epilepsy, etc. I'm no scientist. I'm just a mom and a writer. But that's my observation.

Anyway, this appropriation by Frey and Hughes of the special qualities and contributions that people with Asperger's have made to human society for their alien race seriously pissed me off.

Okay, okay, it's a book. It's not even a great book. It's fluffy sci-fi, that's probably going to make a boatload of money. Yet I find myself still mad about this, a day after turning the final page.

Judaism - The YA Faith

I sat in synagogue on the first day of Rosh Hashanah listening to the Rabbi’s sermon about how we should bring our Judaism into our everyday lives and I started thinking about how my faith has always been a part of my life a great or lesser extent, even when I was in college and apparently told my father that I didn’t believe in G-d, something he told said to me years later was the most upsetting thing I’d ever said to him. The irony was that I didn’t even remember saying it. I was like, “Dad, I was in college! Doesn’t everyone question their faith when they’re in college?”

My ritual observance has had its ebbs and flows, but ultimately my neshama, my Jewish soul, calls me back. I’ve gone from being devoted as a tween, to questioning as a teenager, to agnostic in college, to searching for a deeper meaning in my twenties, and becoming more observant in my thirties and forties.

My first book, CONFESSIONS OF A CLOSET CATHOLIC, was about spiritual explorations, and how Jussy, the book’s protagonist, learned to find her own relationship with G-d and meaning in faith as opposed to merely accepting the path laid out by her family. Although I never went into my closet and confessed to my teddy bear, there was a strong autobiographical element in her spiritual confusion and questioning.

Sitting in shul on Rosh Hashanah, I was thinking about how Judaism is actually a religion made for teens and here’s why: it’s a faith based on ARGUING.

The teen years are all about questioning. Who am I? Why do I have to empty the dishwasher? What do I really believe in? Can you believe she wore that? Why is there so much injustice in the world? Why can’t I have the car keys? What do I want to be in the future? Why did I have the misfortune to be born to the most EMBARRASSING MOTHER IN THE WORLD?

Questioning leads to discussions, which, more often than not, leads to arguments. Teens are very good at arguing. So are Jews. Ever heard the expression: “You put ten Jews in a room and you get eleven opinions” ? It’s true.

The reason is that arguing is an integral part of our people’s history. The Torah is filled with references to arguments between the Patriarchs and G-d. Dennis Prager wrote a terrific article about the lesson these biblical arguments provide for parents:

Parents who allow their child to argue with them retain (and even enhance) their authority, are more likely to be loved, and even more important, guarantee that the child will continue to talk to them. A child who is always forbidden to argue with a parent will eventually stop communicating.

One of my favorite festivals (except for the cleaning beforehand and the effect that eight days of eating matzo has on my digestive system) is Pesach, or Passover.

In the Haggadah, aka the Seder Instruction Manual, which we read from at the festive meal it says:

It once happened that Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Elazar Ben Azaryah, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarfon were reclining in Bnei Brak. They were discussing the Exodus from Egypt all that night until their students came and said to them: "Our teachers, the time has arrived to read the morning Shema."

We take pages and pages of the Haggadah to talk about how these four prominent sages were lying around all night arguing about the possible meanings of “the hand of G-d” and “his outstretched arm” and “all the days of your life,” and why we’re enjoined to talk about the Exodus from Egypt at night instead of during the daytime. PAGES, I tell you. When I was a little and stuck at the kiddy table I just couldn’t understand why we wasted so much time reading about all these long dead sages who sat around arguing about the meaning of words all night.

But that’s the whole point. They were arguing. In Judaism arguing is okay. It’s what we do. In fact it’s how we learn. At the orthodox yeshivas the students pair up and study Talmud through dialectical debate.

There are times in my life when I’ve been so angry with G-d that I wanted to argue with him. Times when I was so angry I was tempted to turn my back on him.

The time when I was angriest was when my daughter was diagnosed with diabetes in the middle of my divorce. She had already gone through so much in her lifetime, and had so much on her plate already. I was so twisted up about the unfairness of it that went to my Rabbi to tell him just how very angry I was. I sat next to his desk and said, “I don’t know what I expect you to do about this, but I just need to tell you that I’m very angry with G-d right now and I don’t feel good about it. Why this right now, on top of everything else she’s going through?”

My rabbi, to his credit, and it’s something for which that I’ll forever be grateful to him, didn’t attempt to rationalize what happened, or, heaven forbid, tell me that my daughter’s diabetes was part of some great Eternal Plan. He simply listened to me rage and said, “I’m not here to make excuses for G-d.”

Because sometimes, there are no excuses. Sometimes, things just suck, and the best thing you can do is just call a spade a spade and say so.

But the thing is, if I was like a teen, with my arguments and my questioning and my anger, than G-d was like a parent, waiting for me to come back when I cooled down – and being a Jewish G-d, probably waiting to lay the “You never called, you never wrote”
line on me.

Wishing you all L’Shanah Tovah – a Happy and Healthy New Year. May we all the be remembered and inscribed in the book of life, blessing, peace and prosperity, so that we will have a life of goodness and peace.


Life After
Sarah Darer Littman

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July 2011



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