Staff Blogs

Booktalking The Girls by Abigail Pesta

The Girls coverThe lights, the glory... Olympic stars dances in these young girls' eyes. It was especially dazzling and awe-inspiring when a doctor named Larry Nassar brought them souvenirs from the Olympic Games - pins or T-shirts. They loved all of it... the glitz and glamour were intoxicating. Larry was the nice guy to tough coach, John Geddert. The girls could complain to Larry about how hard John was on them. Injuries were not allowed. Gymnasts were ridiculed daily and worked beyond the point of exhaustion and light-headedness. Geddert brought athletes to the Olympics, but at what price?
 
One girl stated that John let her fall when he was supposed to be spotting her as punishment for not performing a move correctly. Another claimed that he threw a springboard at her in anger. It was well known in the gym that injuries infuriated the well-known coach. It was better to pretend that mistakes did not happen than to be treated like trash. Young athletes practiced through broken bones and dislocated ribs. Sometimes, blood flowed freely while John screamed at them. Parents were not allowed in the gym, but they could observe practice through a sound-proof window. Few objected to what they saw and it was impossible to witness all of the mistreatment. For example, parents were not allowed at the infamous Karolyi Ranch, which has since closed.
 
Olympic doctor Larry Nassar groomed his young victims with sweet words and gifts. He was distinctly fixated on a particular part of anatomy. In fact, the girls knew him around the Twistars USA Gymnastics Club in Lansing, MI as the "crotch doc." He would touch the gymnasts' private parts while claiming to treat back and spine pain. Oftentimes, parents were in the room during these "medical examinations," but the doctor obscured their view by wrapping a towel around the girls' waists. Some girls complained to their parents and gymnastics coach, Kathie Klages, to no avail. They were told that they were misinterpreting the "medical treatment." Nassar's reign of terror lasted from the 1990s until he was indicted in 2016. Fear of him ran through Twistars, where he volunteered, and Holt High School and Michigan State University, where he worked. He also abused many more athletes, such as dancers and volleyball players. They were in awe of his Olympic status, and he blithely took advantage of them and took from them what they were not willing to give. The repercussions of such pain, abuse and violations will run rivers through some of the victims' relationships with loved ones, co-workers and the public for life.
 
An investigation into Larry Nassar's harmful actions commenced around 2014 as a result of women becoming older and more vocal about the maltreatment that they suffered at the hands of the doctor. In 2017, Nassar, who had been stripped of his medical license, pled guilty to seven counts of criminal sexual misconduct. Kathie Klages was convicted of lying to police. At the sentencing hearing of Nassar in 2018, 200 young women spent seven full days in court giving moving victim impact statements at a length of their own choosing. Michigan State University paid $500 million to Nassar's victims, while USA Gymnastics, which has filed for bankruptcy, has offered $215 million to victims of Nassar. No more will Larry Nassar be allowed to terrorize young women by gratifying his sexual proclivities. These girls and women are stronger than him and Nassar will spend 40 to 125 years in prison for his horrific crimes.
 
 
I was aware of the gargantuan sacrifice that Olympic hopefuls make in terms of giving up social lives outside of the gym, family vacations and the pain of injuries. The physical, psychological and sexual abuse that these gymnasts suffered is terrible. The fact that the abuse was allowed to continue for so many years is nothing but deplorable. I wish these women peace and happiness in their lives.
 
 
 

Booktalking The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert

The Only Black Girls in Town coverEwing Beach, California. Surf, sun, and lots of fun. Alberta is an up-and-coming seventh grader who has the pleasure to live there with her fabulous dads. She loves everything about it, especially her bff, Laramie. The girls hang out much during the summer. They enjoy spending time on the beach and getting free ice cream at the Coleman Creamery where Laramie's brother, Leif, works. They discuss all things: girl talk, school and life in their Californian paradise. Everything is going great for Alberta this summer.
 
Then it gets even better.
 
She discovers that another black family will be moving into the neighborhood. They will occupy the bed and breakfast across the street from Alberta's house. The tween is beyond thrilled to have a black girl to befriend. It is a bit challenging for her to be surrounded by mostly white folks. She longs to have someone that looks like her and understands what it is like to be stared at just because she looks different, to have people assume that she doesn't belong just because she is different. Alberta will finally have someone to commiserate with. 
 
That comes in the form of Edie. She is everything that Alberta hoped for... and more.
 
Edie is goth girl through and through. The tween is adorned in all black and purple clothing, complete with combat books. All of the decor in her attic bedroom is black, down to the rugs and curtains. Edie is a bit of a fish out of water in the small Californian town since she comes from Brooklyn, New York. She misses the people and the corner bodega, where she could get absolutely everything. However, she likes Alberta very much, and she wants to give the bed and breakfast thing a try with her mother.
 
Edie, Laramie and Alberta begin hanging out together. They face the challenges of seventh grade as a cohesive team. Laramie is soaking up the Californian life. Alberta is adjusting to living with her pregnant surrogate mother, along with her dads. Edie is being called Wednesday Adams at school; she is a bit of a sensation, being the new kid in a small town. The three girls can take on anything with the support of each other and their families.
 
The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert, 2020
 
I love diverse books, and Brandy Colbert is a talented author.
 
 
by Miranda McDermott
 
 

Booktalking Crossing the Line by Kareem Rosser

cover of Crossing the Line by Kareem RosserWork to ride is the name of the game... because that's exactly what you do at Chaumounix Equestrian Center in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. This treasure, located near "The Bottom" was a treasure trove for Kareem and his siblings during their youth. His older brothers Dee and David, discovered the barn while on an exploratory bicycle foray through the park. The boys were entranced by the horses. When Lezlie, the barn owner,  approached them and inquired as to whether they wanted to ride, they immediately agreed. Kareem loves equines just as much as his siblings, and he pined to join his brothers. So...  after much poking and prodding, his mother ordered the older boys to allow the horse crazy youth to tag along. 
 
Six kids. The first was born to a 14-year-old mother, the second to a 15-year-old mother. Kareem grew up in "The Bottom," a gritty, depressing part of town where one's foremost goal every day was to dodge bullets. Drugs, prostitution and poverty littered the sidewalks there as far as the eye could see. The boy's mom worked many jobs to try to support the family; she even became involved with abusive men who gave her money for food, rent and drugs. The kids were pretty much given free rein to go whichever way the wind blew. Fortunately, the youngsters happened upon Lezlie and the relative safety of the barn.
 
Lezlie was obsessed with horses from the time she was a little girl. She tried a conventional life by obtaining a BA in psychology, then a record store job. But equines were her passion, and they kept calling her back to them. She knew she had to find a way to spend her life with horses. One day, she met a young boy named Clay who pined to get involved with the large mammals. Unable to resist his charming whimsy, the lady took him under her wing and taught him all that she could about the animals and riding. Then, she was able to scrape together her money to found the organization Work to Ride, a not-for-profit devoted to helping urban kids find a better way in life. Donated horses that no one wanted and off-the-track horses populated the barn.
 
When Kareem first saw the barn, it was overrun with kids. Small humans were everywhere, coming out of the stalls, riding horses, leading horses around; it seemed like a dream. Not an adult in sight that he could recall. An older brother, David, took him for a pony ride. Young Kareem was terrified that he would fall, that the horse would bolt, any sort of calamities could occur... but none did.  The ride merely consisted of his elderly mount walking carefully and slowly trotting in circles. Although the boy's muscles were sore when he dismounted, Kareem was overwhelmed with the urgent desire to do it all over again.
 
 
The cover of this work is priceless, though I would not recommend riding shirtless and in shorts. I lived in Philly for 4.5 years, and I love Fairmount Park. I was fascinated by Work To Ride, but I never visited the barn. I love that Lezlie is giving low wealth, urban youth a chance to choose a life other than violence, drugs and crime.
 
 
 
by Miranda McDermott
 
 

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