Category Archives: books

Michele Norris Takes Us Beyond “The Grace of Silence”

By Janette Santos, Editorial Intern

Sometimes you attend an event that opens your eyes and sticks in your mind and heart. For us, this event was the 2012 Simmons Leadership Conference. Surrounded by powerful and inspiring women like Billie Jean King, Meg Whitman, and Jane McGonigal, it’s no wonder why this event empowered us to embrace our womanhood and continue our drive for success.  Earlier this year we wrote about the speech that Whitman gave at the conference and we published our interview with McGonigal. We could think of no better way to wrap up this series than by featuring a conference speaker near and dear to the Teen Voices mission: award-winning journalist Michele Norris.

Norris has led an extensive career, becoming one of the most honored voices in modern journalism, Currently the host of NPR’s flagship afternoon broadcast, All Things Considered, she has dabbled in every manner of media, interviewed personalities from Oscar winners to American presidents, and worked as a writer on such newspapers as The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.

Her work has earned her a plethora of awards including an Alfred I. Dupont-Columbia University Award for Excellence in Broadcasting, and the 1990 Livingston Award, as well as an Emmy and Peabody Award for her contribution to ABC News’ coverage of 9/11.

Norris recently released her first book, The Grace of Silence, a memoir that explores the concept of identity in America by asking the reader, “How well do you really know your parents?” While taking the reader through her own personal journey trying to answer this question for herself, she delves deeper into the racial legacy of American history during the Post-War period.

She told attendees at April’s conference that when writing this book, she initially wanted to research the role of race in America, until she realized that the topic of race hit closer to home than she’d initially thought. “The elders of my family seemed to have entered into a period of historic indigestion; the stories were just spilling out. ‘Pass the peas, and do you know what happened to me in 1940?’” It was only through this casual dinner talk that Norris learned that her own father had been shot in the leg by white police officers just after he was discharged from the military after World War II.

The story utterly flabbergasted her and made her recognize: “I needed to pay more attention to how the people in my family were talking about race, because I realized there was family history that was unknown to me. I realized that I didn’t know enough about the people that were closest to me. So, I changed course and started examining my own family history.”

It’s an amazing journey. Michele Norris takes her readers not only through this country’s long and sordid past of racial struggles, but also reveals interesting bits of history about her own family. In one tidbit she relates how her maternal grandmother was an “itinerant Aunt Jemima” who would tour the Midwest selling pancake mix to housewives.

Norris emphasized to the conference audience the absolute importance of really listening to your elders when they tell stories of your family’s history before it’s too late, because you never know what you’ll learn about the people close to you.

Suffice it to say, Michele Norris is an admirable woman whose career is inspirational for girls aspiring to journalism. A strong, vocal personality in modern media, her unyielding energy continues to carry her into new fields in the media.

The Deal with the Steal: The Politics of Plagiarism

By Liz Peters, Editorial Assistant
Art by Gracie Gralike, 19, Missouri

Children rarely like being labeled copy cats, and rightfully so.  From a young age, we are all taught that being yourself is worlds better than acting like somebody else. And if we are unique, what comes from us, even our school work, should be just as unique.

According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, plagiarism is taking the work someone else has done, and passing it off as your own. This process occurs most often  through a ‘copy and paste method’—from website to Microsoft Word in one quick motion. But even though what you might consider to be borrowing, common knowledge, or simply not a big deal, when you take someone’s ideas you’re messing with their intellectual property, which is protected by law.

There are several reasons  a girl might neglect her sense of fairness and/or get lazy and opt out of opportunities for originality in academia: reliance on the internet for analyses; hope of getting a better grade, a time crunch, feeling inferior to the subject, and/or compensating by using others’ knowledge as one’s own.

Avoid the Steal!  Building on the work of (I’ve gotta be sure I cite my sources correctly, after all!), here are some tips to keep you legit:

1)      Site your sources….correctly!

2)      Give credit and use quotation marks where appropriate

3)      Manage your time well so that you will not feel rushed in completing an assignment, and thus less tempted to take the ‘easy way out’ and use someone else’s work

4)      Explore whether your school has anti-plagiarism software you can use to help prove to your teachers that your work is original and that other students have not stolen your work.  An increasing number of colleges and universities endorse the use of software that can detect plagiarism—either between students, as papers are archived, or from the internet—through program databases that compare with billions of websites! Turnitin and WriteCheck, which allows you to check your work for plagiarism and originality before handing it in, are examples. If you don’t have current experience with these yet, you may come across them in your future.

For more information on plagiarism, see:

For more information on intellectual property, see:

Note:  Fact checking and citing sources correctly is something that we at Teen Voices take very seriously.  In fact, it’s a major portion of how our college-aged editorial interns spend their time here! They make sure that the feature articles produced by the teens in our program give proper credit for ideas and information.

A big ‘thank you!’ to for aiding in the (original!) production of this piece!

“Hi, my name is Frank, and I collect secrets.”

By Editorial Intern Janette Santos

Photo by Angela Mary Butler

If someone were to tell you that every single day, thousands of people willingly give their innermost secrets to some guy living in Maryland, would you believe them? Well…say hello to Frank Warren.

In case you aren’t familiar with it, PostSecret is a community art project (and some may say, movement) where hundreds of thousands of people send Frank postcards with their secrets on them. It sounds odd, but that is part of the beauty of this project. They don’t call him “The Most Trusted Stranger in America” for nothing.

As part of this project, Frank has published several books, and tours across the country to promote them. Attending one of Frank’s talks is almost like a therapeutic experience; all that has been bubbling and festering inside people’s hearts is finally set free, like a sort of spiritual deliverance, whether it’s by actually plucking up the courage to tell everyone in the room your secret, or just listening to everybody else talk, you finally get to feel that you are not alone.

One of the things that makes PostSecret such a big success is that everyone has secrets. Your parents, your teachers, your friends, and even your mail carrier have secrets, and having an opportunity to share them with the world, without fear and judgment from others, can be very liberating. All of sudden, you’re not alone. There are other people that have your secret, and being a part of a community that encourages you to not only share your secrets, but inspires you to get help or improve your life, is ultimately something that appeals to everyone. It’s a project that supports the human condition of finding fulfillment in your life.

So suffice it to say that when there is a PostSecret event, it’s a mad scramble to get the highly-coveted tickets to attend. At a recent UMass Boston event, hundreds of people from all walks of life lined the hallways of the University Campus Center in anxious anticipation. The lights were dimmed, and people all around talked in excited murmurs, wondering what they were about to experience.

Soon enough, a man strode up to the stage. It was Frank. He seemed very unassuming in his grey sweater, jeans, and glasses. He looked like an average guy, not the mastermind behind an international movement like PostSecret. But then again, if you’re ever lucky enough to see Frank in person at one of these talks, you will see why PostSecret has become so popular. (According to Wikipedia, at one point, PostSecret was the 10th most popular site among female students in the USA, with 7% of those polled naming the site as their favorite, and in September 2011, when an Iphone app was released, it quickly became the top seller and more than 2 million secrets were shared.)

In Boston, Frank simply introduced himself to us with: “Hi, my name is Frank, and I collect secrets.” From there, he explained to everyone in the room how the PostSecret project began, with soliciting secrets from random strangers on the streets of Washington D.C., often being met by the response, “I don’t have any secrets.” Frank revealed that in reality, these people usually had the best secrets! Over time, Frank watched his project expand virally. The secrets began “as a slow trickle at first, but soon, [the secrets] just kept arriving and arriving.” Today, Frank has in his possession literally hundreds of thousands of secrets, stacked up in pyramids at his home at 13345 Copper Ridge Road, in Germantown, Maryland (an address that is now world famous!).

There are two types of secrets, according to Frank: secrets we keep from others and the secrets we keep from ourselves. The two most common secrets that Frank receives are: “I pee in the shower,” and “I want someone in my life who understands me.” Many of the secrets he receives are humorous and silly, but others are just heartbreaking.

Girls, in particular, may find solace in such a public forum; many girls submit their secrets of being raped, of suicide attempts, or of heartbreak. The great thing about PostSecret is that once you submit your secret, the community usually comes forward, bursting with supportive commentary through the online threads of the website.

In fact, one of the reasons Frank continues to keep the PostSecret project alive is to help people. And it is why he gives attention and money to suicide prevention, aligning himself and the project with, a live online crisis network that uses instant messaging to respond to people in crisis 24/7.  During his talk, he stated: “In the time I’ve been speaking to you, two people have been killed. Four have committed suicide.”

Frank believes that it is only because of life’s hardships that we are able to grow into better people. He has had a very hard life himself, but admits: “If I could go back in time and look over my life and all the bad moments, I would go through each and every one of those moments as they occurred. And I wouldn’t change a thing.”

So whatever secret you may be harboring in your heart, don’t be ashamed to share it–you’ll be welcomed with open arms. If you are lucky enough to get the chance to attend a PostSecret show, go! You’ll be glad you came.

Get Your Book On

By Sarah Binning

Ladies, one of our favorite weeks of the year is almost here. Next week, we’ll join libraries around the world in celebrating Teen Reading Week! I can already picture Starbucks filled with teen girls relaxing on the couches, piping hot lattés in one hand, a library book in the other. Now all that’s left is to decide what book to read. Thankfully, the Teen Voices office is full of bookworms. We’ve compiled a list of our favorite books to help you narrow your reading selection!

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Recommendation by Katie Bayerl, features editor

Speak was an absolutely ground-breaking book. First published in 1999, it addressed tough issues that no other books for teens had tackled: date rape, bullying, and self-injury. But it wasn’t just another hit-you-over-the-head-with-a-lesson “problem” novel. Speak is beautifully written, fast-paced, filled with surprising humor, uplifting, and downright amazing. It changed the game in young adult fiction, inspiring a new wave of fiction for teens that continues to grow. Teens today wouldn’t have access to such a huge variety of books written specifically for them if it weren’t for Speak.

This book will make you laugh and break your heart and inspire you. Melinda’s voice is so funny, so painfully real. Her struggle to face her trauma and ‘speak’  is one that will have you on the edge of your seat, rooting for her to come through okay.”

Dibs in Search of Self by Virginia M. Axline (1964)
Recommendation by Katie Wheeler, editor

“It’s the moving [true] story of a boy who is very withdrawn from the world, and how his psychologist reached him and helped him learn to trust and interact with the world. In hindsight, Dibs was probably autistic, although I don’t think that word was ever used. Back in those days, I don’t think the psychology or education field had any understanding of autism-spectrum disorders. So before Dr. Axline, no one knew what to make of Dibs or how to help him. The sensitivity, patience, skill, and determination of the therapist to reach this boy inspired me to want to read more books about kids with ‘special needs’ and to study psychology, which I did through graduate school.”

Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
Recommendation by Jenn Johnston, development manager

“As a teenager, I devoured books. I would read anything and everything. When I started Go Ask Alice, it was simply another book in a long list of those recommended by an English teacher. I didn’t think much of it. Within a few pages though, I was hooked; Go Ask Alice was eye opening in a way that not many books had been for me at that point.

Unlike most teen novels, there was no sugar-coating the life of the character. It was very real, and I appreciated it for that sense of ‘telling it like it is.’ It’s an unpretentious novel that doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is: a riveting story about a girl trying to find her place in this world and getting in over her head.”

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Recommendation by Denesha Peter, peer leader

“This book is perfect for teens who want a little of everything: a gripping love story, a little science fiction, and the charming charisma of the characters that will leave you in love with them by the end of the book.

I read this book only after watching the movie. I read tons of reviews that the movie just didn’t do the book justice and how much better the book was and indeed it is. I automatically fell in love with all the characters, including the minor ones.”

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Shiguro
Recommendation by Bria Gadsden, peer leader

“I enjoyed this book because even though it was creepy and the plot was enigmatic at first, it required me to take the time to actually think about what’s going on … Teens should read this book because they will laugh, and even feel a sense of love or sadness for a character. I believe that teens will definitely agree that this book is different from most common modern-day novels. Also, this book will broaden readers’ horizons and allow readers to explore other weird scientific theories, such as cloning.”

Okay For Now by Gary Schmidt
Recommendation by Lindsay McCormack, editorial assistant

“I can’t see a bird now without thinking about this book! … [Schmit’s] language is so simple and direct; the main character in the novel has one of the most powerful voices I’ve ever heard. This book will change the way [teens] think about art and the ‘difficult’ boys in their classrooms.”

Don’t be afraid to get creative. There’s more to reading than just  books and novels. Pick up a copy of Teen Ink, or leaf through peer-generated content on and Next week is about celebrating any and all reading. In fact, this year’s theme, Picture It @ your library®, encourages teens to read illustrated materials, such as graphic novels or other creative types of literature.

Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon
Recommendation by Sarah Binning, marketing and editorial coordinator

“When I was assigned to read this book for school, I remember rolling my eyes. I had (wrongfully) stereotyped graphic novels as comic books for teenage boys. But two pages into this novel, I was hooked. Inspired by true events, this heartbreaking book not only opened my eyes to the beauty and power of graphic novels, but also to what it’s like to live in a war zone. ”

 Be sure to visit our website next week, for a special Teen Reading Week with YALSA Top Ten nominee Cynthia Leitich Smith and other great book reviews.

Exposed Author Kimberly Marcus Discusses Her First Novel

By Lauren Castner

Last Tuesday, fellow Teen Voices editorial assistant Ashley Morris and I attended a dinner with Kimberly Marcus, author of the upcoming young adult novel Exposed.  The dinner was at Harvest, in Cambridge, MA, and celebrated the upcoming February release of Marcus’s first novel.

Marcus’s excitement about her new book is plain to see.  She told Teen Voices she couldn’t believe she was at a dinner with a group of people who had read her novel (and we were super excited to have dinner with a published author!).

Exposed is written in free verse, a refreshing departure from the writing styles we typically see in young adult novels.  It tells the story of Liz, her best friend Kate, and the events that lead up to Kate’s decision to end their friendship.  Liz is an aspiring photographer and Marcus tells the story in snapshots; she is able to say a lot with few words.  As a former children’s therapist with a Master’s in Social Work, Marcus tackles tough issues with accuracy and knowledge. The story reads realistically and could very well happen in any town across the country.  I picked up the book and had to read it cover to cover; Marcus knows how to reel in her audience and hold them captivated until the end of her novel.

If you’re interested in learning more about Marcus, check out her website here, and look for Exposed in bookstores on February 22!


Indie Girl Shows You How to Kick Off Your Creative Project

By Teen Voices editorial intern Michelle Golden

Ever wanted to start your own band? Create an art exhibit? Form a dance troupe? Or maybe you’ve dreamed about starting your own fashion company. All you need is motivation, creativity, and inspiration – plus possibly a few words of advice from Arne Johnson and Karen Macklin co-authors of the book Indie Girl – and you’ll be well on your way to launching the project of your dreams.

In each chapter of Indie Girl, Johnson and Macklin take girls through what it takes to kick off a creative project. Want to start a band? Well, you’ll need some instruments (unless you’ll be going a capella, of course!), rehearsal space, a microphone, a computer, and performance space (for all those sold-out concerts you’ll be rocking out at). So then you’ll need to learn a few of your favorite songs (over time, you’ll be writing your own), find someone who can create a beat or two on the drums, and you’re already halfway there. So take out those earphones, make your own music, and bump Avril off the Top 40 charts with your new hit single!

Perhaps starting a band and writing your own music isn’t on your to-do list, but you’ve always loved writing song lyrics or poetry. Why not hold a poetry slam, like we do here at Teen Voices? This way, you can empower yourself and others simply and beautifully with the written word. Poetry is a great form of self-expression, and a poetry slam enables teen girls who have been writing poems to read them out loud to an audience. In the chapter “Hold a Poetry Slam,” Indie Girl encourages teen girls to “share a vision, thought, emotion or political idea in verse.” First things first, you’ll need to find a location for your event, recruit a few poets, and create a board of members to help out organizing, producing, judging etc. Since a poetry slam is a competition, judges and scorekeepers are necessary. But don’t let that discourage you. Don’t let the fear of not winning keep you silent! Want to read more on poetry slams? Check out our article “Speaking Up Is Slammin’” by teen editors Tekeisha Meade and Mirna Ortiz.

Indie Girl is a tool for launching your dream into reality. The book is just a little (really great) guide to help you along your journey. Just don’t substitute it for the really important tool: you!

Indie Girl: From Starting a Band to Launching a Fashion Company, Nine Ways to Turn Your Creative Talent into Reality