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Star-Crossed
Author: Barbara Dee
Published March 14th, 2017 by Aladdin

Summary: Mattie, a star student and passionate reader, is delighted when her English teacher announces the eighth grade will be staging Romeo and Juliet. And she is even more excited when, after a series of events, she finds herself playing Romeo, opposite Gemma Braithwaite’s Juliet. Gemma, the new girl at school, is brilliant, pretty, outgoing—and, if all that wasn’t enough: British.

As the cast prepares for opening night, Mattie finds herself growing increasingly attracted to Gemma and confused, since, just days before, she had found herself crushing on a boy named Elijah. Is it possible to have a crush on both boys AND girls? If that wasn’t enough to deal with, things backstage at the production are starting to rival any Shakespearean drama! In this sweet and funny look at the complicated nature of middle school romance, Mattie learns how to be the lead player in her own life.

Review: I really, really, really enjoyed this book. First, it made me like Shakespeare more than I did before. Second, I think that it dealt with sexual identity in a gentle and realistic manner. 

I must admit that Shakespeare is a fear of mine because I just never have felt like I got him the way I should as an English Lit major and English teacher; however, it is what it is. When I see Shakespeare plays, I am always transported into the story and understand what all the hoopla is about, but reading it cold, I just never get it. I worried that a story about a middle school putting on Romeo and Juliet would let the Shakespeare bog it down, but it did the opposite–it helped this story be what it is. The reader learns to love Shakespeare as Mattie learns to love him. And since we are in class and at rehearsals with Mattie, we also get to be part of some of the lessons about the play thus helping the reader understand the text as well as Mattie is supposed to. It was brilliantly intertwined.

Mattie’s feelings toward Gemma are obvious to the reader before Mattie even realizes what they are, but that felt truly realistic to me because if you are someone who has already crushed on boys, feeling the same way towards a girl could be confusing, but Dee never makes it seem like what Mattie seems is anything but natural which is beautiful to see in a middle grade novel.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: In addition to being in classroom, school, and public libraries, sections of the story could definitely be used in conjunction to a reading of Romeo and Juliet. Some of the discussions of the play, both during Mattie’s English class and during play rehearsals, would be great jumping off points for similar discussions in the classroom.

Discussion Questions: What clues did Dee include that Mattie’s feelings for Gemma were deeper than she first realized?; If your class was putting on Romeo and Juliet, who do you think would be best to play each character? Explain.; What allusions to Romeo and Juliet did Dee include within the text?; Have you ever read a text that affected you the way Romeo and Juliet effected Mattie?

Flagged Passages: “But that afternoon, when I got home from Verona’s and locked myself in my bedroom to read Romeo and Juliet, something happened to me. It was kind of like a thunderbolt, I guess you could call it. Because as I was reading, I stared speaking the words out loud, feeling the characters’ emotions as if they were mind. I didn’t understand every word, and a few times I skimmed when certain characters (specifically, Mercutio and Friar Lawrench) got speechy. But the idea that Romeo and Juliet had a secret love they had to hid from their families, even from their best friends–it was a story so real I could almost see it happening in front of me.

And wen I got to the end, when Juliet discovers that Romeo is dead, and kisses his lips, and they’re still warm, I did the whole scene in front of the mirror, including the kiss. My eyes had actual tears, and I thought: It’s like this play is happening TO me. Inside me. 

I wanted to own it. I wanted to eat it, as if it were chocolate layer cake.” (p. 68-69)

Read This If You Love: Shakespeare, Middle grade novels about school life and identity 

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**Thank you to Simon & Schuster for providing a copy of the book and to Barbara Dee for reaching out to me!**

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Nonfiction Wednesday

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book).
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!

Fun Home

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
Author: Alison Bechdel
Published: June 5, 2007 by Mariner Books

Summary: In this graphic memoir, Alison Bechdel charts her fraught relationship with her late father.

Distant and exacting, Bruce Bechdel was an English teacher and director of the town funeral home, which Alison and her family referred to as the Fun Home. It was not until college that Alison, who had recently come out as a lesbian, discovered that her father was also gay. A few weeks after this revelation, he was dead, leaving a legacy of mystery for his daughter to resolve.

Review: I don’t tend to read many adult books each year, but I kept seeing this book referenced. I noticed it was a 2007 publication, and when books are still being discussed frequently almost ten years later, you know they have to be good! I finally requested it from my library, and boy did I love it. I usually try to review only new books, but this book was too good not to share. I felt deeply connected with Alison and her life—despite the fact that it is nothing like mine. I was really drawn to the psychological themes she embedded and the phenomenal writing. She is incredibly smart, and this shines in her writing. The drawings are equally captivating. I am not surprised that young adults tend to read this book. It’s quite edgy and many sections made me blush, but I know this doesn’t stop teens. I will be thinking about this book for a long time.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: I am not a stranger to controversy, but I’d probably use this book for close reading because the images might be a bit uncomfortable for some (but not most!) of my students. There is a lot of nudity, and there are sexually explicit drawings. That said, I most certainly would have it in my classroom (nothing stops me, controversy-wise, if a book is really good and a great learning tool). A close reading of many of the beginning chapters would lead to fantastic conversations about family dynamics and psychology. There is so much to teach from this book: Tone, Author’s Perspective, Vocabulary, etc. 

Discussion Questions: How does Alison navigate her childhood?; What is her response to her father’s death? Why might this be?; What role does the Fun Home play in her life? How does this graphic novel differ from others that you’ve read?; How is the author’s writing style similar to short vignettes? What scenes stand out to you? Why might this be?

Flagged Passage: 

Fun Home ImageSource of Image

Read This If You Love: How the World Was: A California Childhood by Emmanuel Guibert; The Photographer by Emmanuel Guibert; Alan’s War by Emmanuel Guibert; The Stranger by Albert Camus; The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

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more happy than not

More Happy Than Not
Authors: Adam Silvera
Published: June 2, 2015 by Soho Teen

GoodReads Summary: In his twisty, gritty, profoundly moving debut—called “mandatory reading” by the New York Times—Adam Silvera brings to life a charged, dangerous near-future summer in the Bronx.

In the months after his father’s suicide, it’s been tough for 16-year-old Aaron Soto to find happiness again–but he’s still gunning for it. With the support of his girlfriend Genevieve and his overworked mom, he’s slowly remembering what that might feel like. But grief and the smile-shaped scar on his wrist prevent him from forgetting completely.

When Genevieve leaves for a couple of weeks, Aaron spends all his time hanging out with this new guy, Thomas. Aaron’s crew notices, and they’re not exactly thrilled. But Aaron can’t deny the happiness Thomas brings or how Thomas makes him feel safe from himself, despite the tensions their friendship is stirring with his girlfriend and friends. Since Aaron can’t stay away from Thomas or turn off his newfound feelings for him, he considers turning to the Leteo Institute’s revolutionary memory-alteration procedure to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he truly is.

Why does happiness have to be so hard?

Review: After Aaron’s father commits suicide, he finds it difficult to find his place in the world, and the smile-shaped scar on his wrist is just one reminder of this struggle. Aaron considers turning to an institute that has the capability to alter his memory—because he wants to forget that he is gay. The text is heart-wrenching, emotionally profound, and deeply moving. Weeks after I read it, I found that I was still referencing it in daily conversations with teacher friends. I also designed a conference proposal based on a concept from this book. This is an important book that belongs in classrooms.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Students will enjoy debating the ethics of the Leteo Institute’s procedure. My book club had a heated debate, and at the end, I still didn’t know where I stood! Teachers might bring in other examples from the media of people who have experienced trauma and ask students—would it be okay for this person to have the procedure done? When is it ethically okay (if ever)?

Discussion Questions: How does the author unfold the plot for the reader? How does this impact the telling of the story?; Which of Aaron’s friends are loyal? Why?; What does this procedure say about humanity? Do you think people would undergo the procedure? Who might be most likely to undergo the procedure?; How does the author end the novel? What does this teach us?

We Flagged: “Memories: some can be sucker punching, others carry you forward; some stay with you forever, others you forget on your own. You can’t really know which ones you’ll survive if you don’t stay on the battlefield, bad times shooting at you like bullets. But if you’re lucky, you’ll have plenty of good times to shield you.”

Read This If You Loved: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, None of the Above by I. W. Gregorio, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

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Prejudice: Is It Something We Can Control?
Text Set for Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
created by Brenna Conrad

I will be working with an 11A class studying British Literature. In class, we will be reading Frankenstein and Pride and Prejudice. At first, I had a lot of difficulty finding a theme that would be applicable not only to both texts but also to two sets of students who get to choose which book they want to read. I chose to focus my unit on the concept of prejudice and if it is something that we can control. In Frankenstein, prejudice is visible when everyone rejects the monster based on its appearance. In Pride and Prejudice, it is inherent in how the classes are divided and how characters treat one another. I chose this overarching theme because I think that this idea of prejudice is a very prominent issue in today’s society and should be considered and discussed in an educational setting. I want students to be able to not only get a more complex and complete understanding of what prejudice is and how it is prevalent in society but also to understand that there are many subtle ways it is incorporated into the media and texts. This is important for students to be aware of, especially as technology and media is becoming increasingly more influential as time progresses.

With this goal in mind, I constructed my text set with illustrating prejudices not only in as many forms of media as possible but in as many different time periods as possible. I want students to place these books among many other works that display the dangers and horrors of prejudice. Though I tried to incorporate multiple sources from different time periods to plot prejudice through time, I narrowed my focus to current media that my students have witnessed in their lifetime, allowing them to personally connect with these sources. Prejudice is one of the most prevalent issues in today’s society, and I think creating an awareness about how prejudice is incorporated into our society in multiple forms of media is very important for learners.

Anchor Texts (although other texts may be used!):
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Frankenstein
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice

Children’s Books
The Sneeches by Dr. Seuss (Also available on YouTube)
sneetches

Young Adult Texts
This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel (YA pairing to Frankenstein)
this dark endeavor
Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg (YA pairing to Pride and Prejudice)
prom and prejudice

Films
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (with Kenneth Branagh and Robert Di Niro)
Pride & Prejudice (with Kiera Knightly)
Pride and Prejudice (with Colin Firth)
Cinderella

Plays
The Laramie Project by Moisés Kaufman
Othello by William Shakespeare

Images Used as Propaganda for Protest Movements
Gay Rights:
3.25.2015Prior to WWIJune 2015 Gay Rights MovementJune 2015 Anti-Gay Rights Movement

3.25.2015 Prior to WWI June 2015 Gay Rights June 2015 Anti-Gay Rights

Women’s Suffrage:
Anti-SuffragePro-Suffrage2013

 SuffragePro-Suffrage2013

Civil Rights:
1960sAnti-Civil RightsBlack Lives Matter MovementBlack Lives Matter MovementCounter to Black Lives Matter Movement

1960s Anti-Civil Rights Black Lives Matter1 black lives matter white lives matter

News Articles
Transgender Student Seeks Acceptance as She Runs for Homecoming Queen
BBC News: The Girl Who Was Shot for Going to School
Girls who Code aim to Make Waves in a Man’s World
Seeking Self-Esteem Through Surgery

Poems
“I, Too” by Langston Hughes
“Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou
“Beautiful City” by Alfred Tennyson
“Discrimination” by Kenneth Rexroth
“Breaking Prejudice” by Daniel Tabone

Songs
“Teenage Frankenstein” by Alice Cooper
“Same Love” by Macklemore
“Blackbird” by The Beatles
“Chains” by Usher

Charts
Gap in Yearly Earnings
Race of Prisoners

Essays
Gilbert and Gubar: “The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination”

TV Shows/YouTube Clips
Family Guy: African American Prejudice
Family Guy: Asian Prejudice
Family Guy: Mexican Prejudice
Family GuyItalian Prejudice
Family Guy: Muslim Prejudice
Family GuyChristian Prejudice
Social Mobility with Legos

Guiding Questions

  • What is prejudice?
  • How is prejudice seen in today’s society? Has this changed in comparison to the past?
  • How does society portray prejudice? How do we speak back to prejudice?
  • Are there prejudices that we are unaware of, but still possess? How do we know? What can we do about it?
  • Do people live in fear of prejudice? What do they do to avoid it?
  • Are prejudice and racism the same thing?
  • What different types of prejudice are there? Do some levels of prejudice feel stronger or more impactful than others? How might ranking levels of prejudice be problematic?
  • Can we eradicate prejudice or is it a reality of human nature?

Writing Prompts

  • How many different forms of prejudice are there? Are they all prejudice?
  • Make a list of things you’ve seen in the media that promote a prejudice society. Consider media such as television commercials, shows, movies, songs, magazines, or even comics. Pick 5 media that you believe are the most detrimental and briefly explain why.
  • After reading Frankenstein or Pride and Prejudice, has your concept of prejudice changed?
  • Choose a group that has been historically marginalized—either one that we talked about in class or a different group—and examine how the prejudice against this group has shifted across years.
  • Do you believe that it is human nature to be prejudice or that it is something society has taught. Write an argument for the side that you believe in. Be sure to include example from class and at least two credible outside sources.
  • In a journal entry, discuss prejudice in our society. Consider: Do people use prejudice in a way to benefit themselves? How do we as a society associate prejudice and humor? Is that ok? Are we making progress away from prejudice? Why or why not?

A special thanks to Brenna for this phenomenal text set! We think this text set would be useful for many anchor texts! What do you think?

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I'll Give You the Sun

I’ll Give You the Sun
Author: Jandy Nelson
Published: September 16, 2014 by Dial

Summary: A brilliant, luminous story of first love, family, loss, and betrayal for fans of John Green, David Levithan, and Rainbow Rowell

Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah’s story to tell. The later years are Jude’s. What the twins don’t realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.

This radiant novel from the acclaimed, award-winning author of The Sky Is Everywhere will leave you breathless and teary and laughing—often all at once.

Review: I haven’t been able to stop talking about this book since I read it. I anxiously awaited its release after reading (and loving) The Sky is Everywhere, and it most certainly didn’t disappoint. Jandy Nelson writes characters that step off of the pages and into readers’ hearts. I cried along with Jude and Noah and felt their grief as if it was my own. The passion of the characters was refreshing, and I felt as if they were my friends by the end of the book. Jandy Nelson is a literary genius. This book is quirky, colorful, and different, which makes it unforgettable for me. I plan to use this in my future Methods courses, and I only reserve those reading spots for the best of the best in YAL. It crosses genres a bit (Jude talks to ghosts), and the alternating perspectives span several years in the siblings’ lives. Students and teachers will find many topics and literary qualities that are worthy of analysis and discussion.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: Nelson touches on many life lessons in the text, and she presents them in an implicit way. (We all know that readers hate didactic texts!) I would ask my students to create a billboard: “Lessons I Learned from I’ll Give You the Sun.” Then, they could create a word map of different lessons they learned and cut out quotes or draw illustrations of scenes that taught these life lessons.

Discussion Questions: What does this story teach us about humanity?; How do the different characters cope with tragedy? What outlets (creative, emotional, etc.) do the characters use as coping mechanisms?; How does Jude and Noah’s relationship evolve throughout the text?; How does the nonlinear format impact the story?

We Flagged: “I gave up practically the whole world for you,” I tell him, walking through the front door of my own love story. “The sun, stars, ocean, trees, everything, I gave it all up for you.”

Read This If You Loved: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira, The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracey Holczer, Ask the Passengers by A.S. King

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Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book).
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!

honor girl

Honor Girl
Author and Illustrator: Maggie Thrash
Published September 8th, 2015 by Candlewick Press

Goodreads Summary: All-girl camp. First love. First heartbreak. At once romantic and devastating, brutally honest and full of humor, this graphic-novel memoir is a debut of the rarest sort.

Maggie Thrash has spent basically every summer of her fifteen-year-old life at the one-hundred-year-old Camp Bellflower for Girls, set deep in the heart of Appalachia. She’s from Atlanta, she’s never kissed a guy, she’s into Backstreet Boys in a really deep way, and her long summer days are full of a pleasant, peaceful nothing . . . until one confounding moment. A split-second of innocent physical contact pulls Maggie into a gut-twisting love for an older, wiser, and most surprising of all (at least to Maggie), female counselor named Erin. But Camp Bellflower is an impossible place for a girl to fall in love with another girl, and Maggie’s savant-like proficiency at the camp’s rifle range is the only thing keeping her heart from exploding. When it seems as if Erin maybe feels the same way about Maggie, it’s too much for both Maggie and Camp Bellflower to handle, let alone to understand.

My Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book is a book of truth. Maggie has put her heart and soul onto paper and shared it with all of us. I adored the honesty of her story and the slow unraveling and realization of her feelings for Erin. The romance in this felt so much more real (well, it is real!) than other YA books out there. Maggie’s feelings over this specific summer will resonate with so many readers because it is how real people fall in love and/or confirm their sexuality. I also was surprised that I liked the art. At first I found it hard to follow, but then it felt just as real as the story. This is a book that will be important to many readers out there, so it needs to be available to teens.

Discussion Questions: How hard did you think it was for Maggie to feel so opposite of what was expected of her by the camp and her parents?; Why do you think that Erin and Maggie’s relationship didn’t work out? Were you surprised that they were so uncomfortable when they reconnected a year later?; How did Maggie’s friends play a role in how she felt at camp?

Book Trailer: 

Read This If You Loved: Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg, Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan, Ask the Passengers by A.S. King

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“Why We Still Need Coming Out Stories in YA Fiction”

A friend of mine recently complained that the LGBT literary market seems to be dominated by coming out stories. “Why do all the gay stories have to be about people coming to terms with their sexual identity?” she asked. This focus is limiting and narrow, she argues.

I have seen this sentiment in many Goodreads reviews of LGBT stories, too, ya fiction included. And I see the point. I do. It is based in the argument that as much as we need diversity in the kinds of people we tell stories about, we also need diversity in the kinds of stories we tell about them. In this modern and increasingly tolerant world there should now be a place for books where the sexuality of gay characters need not be the focus of the story, but simply an element of character.

Sure, that sounds great, but coming from the perspective of someone who both teaches and writes for young people, I would argue (and did) that coming out narratives still have a vital role in the realm of ya fiction. And it doesn’t surprise me that those arguing for less focus on coming out stories on Goodreads are often adult readers and reviewers of ya fiction, not the primary audience.

I think we’d be pretty misguided to think we are living in a world so progressive that stories about realizing your sexuality aren’t still vital for young people who are in the process of discovering who they are. Because that’s growing up, isn’t it? It’s the experience of becoming yourself in the world. And it is a time when questions of your sexual identity have suddenly become psychologically and hormonally urgent.

Coming out stories give ya readers an opportunity to see how other young people negotiate these uncertain terrains, and to give perspective to an experience they are going through. And as anyone who has been through the war zone that is puberty can attest, it’s hard enough to go through the uncertainty of adolescence. But it’s even harder to discover you are different from most of those around you. And if you are gay, that is statistically likely to be the case. And difference, sadly, must always be made known, and it is always there to be noticed.

As a young gay person, you are asked to recognise and announce yourself in terms of your difference from others, and at a time of life when there is so much pressure to socially conform. For some this is difficult and stories about negotiating and surviving these pressures are vital. For example, in Kelly Quindlen’s Her Name in the Sky, Hanna and Baker both try to ignore their feelings for each other in order to conform to their religious and heteronormative environment, but ultimately realise they cannot. They slowly discover they do not need to fit into tightly prescribed social categories to be accepted and happy.

Coming out is also a jarringly public process. Few heterosexual girls will ever have to announce, ‘Hey, I’ve decided I want to make out with boys!’ In fact, it’s expected. But if it’s a teenage boy, he’s probably going to have to say it out aloud at least once. For some young people, the scrutiny this declaration invites can be awkward. For example, in A Story of Now, Mia is not uncomfortable about realising she is gay, but with the fact that her newfound identity is something she must announce to the world, rendering her private life immediately public.

Another point where I think my friend has really missed the importance of coming out stories is that coming out is as much about coming out to yourself as it is to the world. Coming out is also about a person figuring out who they mean when they say ‘I’, and where this places them in the world.

For some young gay people, accepting and embracing their sexual identity can be the most difficult part of coming out. A perfect example of a story that sympathetically depicts this struggle is A.S. King’s Ask the Passengers. For the reader, it might seem like the job of coming out is half-done at the start of the novel: Astrid has a girlfriend and she has gay friends. But Astrid is not yet ready to accept who she might be. And while everyone around her tries to push her toward certainty, she stubbornly takes her own sweet time to come to terms with her sexual identity.

How can books that shows readers how negotiate these experiences not just be good, but be necessary? George Gerbner describes storytelling as the process that makes us recognize ourselves. And as ya writers it remains our responsibility to pass down the kind of stories where young people have the opportunity to think, ‘Hey I feel like that too.’ We do this so they can recognize themselves at a crucial time in their lives. It. So I am sorry, my friend, you are wrong. There is one domain at least where coming out stories are still sorely needed.

 

a story of now

A Story of Now

About the Book: Nineteen-year-old Claire Pearson knows she needs a life. And some new friends. But brittle, beautiful, and just a little bit too sassy for her own good sometimes, she no longer makes friends easily. And she has no clue where to start on the whole finding a life front, either. Not after a confidence-shattering year dogged by bad break-ups, friends who have become strangers, and her constant failure to meet her parents sky-high expectations.

When Robbie and Mia walk into Claire’s work they seem the least likely people to help her find a life. But despite Claire’s initial attempts to alienate them, an unexpected new friendship develops.

And it’s the warm, brilliant Mia who seems to get Claire like no one has before. Soon, Claire begins to question her feelings for her new friend.

Author’s Note: The characters are university aged and thus the story contains elements like drinking and mild sexual content.

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About Emily O’Beirne

Author website: http://emilyobeirne.com/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/13543645.Emily_O_Beirne

Tumblr: http://it-used-to-be-fun.tumblr.com/

Excerpt of A Story of Now: http://emilyobeirne.com/2015/06/18/excerpt-a-story-of-now/

 

 Thank you so much to Emily for allowing us to host this giveaway and for writing about something we genuinely believe in. 

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