I wish there was more than just one of me here in the library. This is a busy high school, with over 3,000 students, and this library is often full of kids using computers, printing, looking for books, and searching for various other kinds of support and/or guidance.

     Take this morning, for example. Before first period started, I was busy at the circ desk checking books out, renewing books, taking cash and making change for printing. Everybody’s in a hurry during this rush period, trying to get what they need before class starts.

     One of the library regulars, a girl we’ll call Jocelyn, appeared by my side at the end of the counter, wanting to chat with me while I multitasked. Jocelyn is one of those kids who struggles in school, and needs extra help. Her thoughts seem jumbled a lot of the time, and she has a hard time expressing in words what’s going on in her head. She’s very sweet, and certainly not stupid. But it’s like some God of Mischief stuck a finger in her head and just swirled it around a bit, scrambling her brain and making it a constant challenge for her to form coherent thoughts and words.

     Fuck you, Loki, or Whomever.

     So this morning, while I’m taking cash and doling out change, grabbing printed sheets from the printer on the circ desk, running to the back room to grab color print jobs, helping kids find books, checking books in, checking books out, and renewing… Jocelyn says, “My parents made me take this medicine, but the medicine makes me feel weird and sleepy…”

     I made a sympathetic sound, but my attention was on the line of kids at the counter. Fahrenheit 451? Yes, we have that! Right over here.

     Jocelyn quietly but insistently continued, “I can hardly stay awake and my stomach hurts. But it’s because I had a psychiatrist appointment, and I kept crying and crying…”

     Meanwhile, one of Jocelyn’s classmates, also from the class of kids who need extra help, had come up beside Jocelyn, so that both of them were sort of crowding my left side, while I dealt with the line of kids on my right. We’ll call this classmate Jacob. Jacob put his big disheveled 3-ring binder on the counter near my left elbow, and proceeded to pull sheets out of it, trying to show me his current writing project.

     “Mr. Kovac, I need your help writing paragraph three of chapter two. Cuz I can think of everything, but I can’t think of it, and I’m already done with it but it needs to be, like, scrapped and started all over again. Mr. Kovac?”

     The phone at my desk began trilling. I aimed a very patient, “Hang on just a minute, guys,” toward Jocelyn and Jacob both, and dashed around them and over to my desk to just barely nab the phone in time. It was the attendance clerk, looking for a bunch of kids from Mr. Rumbolt’s “zero period class,” because Rumbolt was out sick and the sub hadn’t shown up yet, and the attendance clerk had told all the kids to go to the library.

     I put my hand over the phone’s mouthpiece and yelled, “Is there anyone in the library right now from Mr. Rumbolt’s zero period class?”

     The answer was no, which I relayed to the attendance clerk. And no, I had no idea where they might be.

     By the time I put the phone down, there were more kids waiting at the circ desk. I renewed a copy of Stephen King’s It, took payment for a late fine, and added paper to the empty tray in the black & white printer.

     Behind my back and to the side, I could hear Jocelyn continuing, “--and it’s not like me to just cry and cry like that, but I’m just so sad lately, and then my parents and my psychiatrist give me this medication that--”

     I turned quickly to Jocelyn, realizing that somebody needed to acknowledge her pain. But the line at the circ desk was growing again, and I needed to go grab some printouts from the color printer in the back room. I made a sympathetic boo-boo face and clucked, “Oh, no, that’s terrible!” and dashed into the back room, leaving Jocelyn standing there at the side of the circ desk, still chattering about how she can’t stop crying and she’s so groggy from the medication.

     Did I just give that poor kid an insincere boo-boo face and walk away from her? I asked myself, horrified. When I dashed back out to the circ desk, I handed the color prints to the kid who needed them, and while I was taking that kid’s dollar and making change, asked Jocelyn, “So… your parents made you take some medication that makes you sleepy? Do you think you’ll be able to--”

     “Mr. Kovac, I need to check out this book!” Jacob interrupted, having grabbed an audiobook in its case from a nearby shelf. “But why is it in a box?”

     “I cry all the time, but--” Jocelyn said, talking quietly as the first bell blatted.

     “It’s an audiobook,” I explained to Jacob, popping open the case and showing him the little palm-sized audio player, how to turn it on, where to plug in the earbuds. “You wanna check it out?”

     On my left side, Jacob and Jocelyn proceeded to talk over each other in relentless monotones, as I checked out and renewed more books to kids on my right side at the circ desk.

JOCELYN: ...so sad all the time and I don’t even know why…

JACOB: ...I definitely want to check out that audiobook cuz I need it…

JOCELYN: ...parents don’t know if they can afford to keep paying for my therapy, and…

JACOB: ...definitely can’t trust myself cuz I might lose it…

JOCELYN: ...just feel like crying…

JACOB: ...some Halloween candy…

JOCELYN: ...watching this anime about a kid who murders her parents…

     “The bell rang!” I announced in my big authority voice. “Everybody needs to get to class!”

     As the room quickly emptied, I watched Jocelyn melt into the crowd.

     Sorry about your existential crisis, don't murder your parents, okay bye!

PUBLISHING TREND : Teen Nut Allergy Drama!

     The teen & YA publishing world loves "issues." Especially an "issue du jour." Like cutting, gender identity, obesity & anorexia, school shootings, etc. Kids are drawn to tragedy and sensationalism, and publishers capitalize on that.
     I think there may be an emerging trend of teen books about NUT ALLERGIES. Deadly ones. Here's why:
     I was just going through the December 2012 issue of VOYA, and discovered a review of Janet Gurtler's Who I Kissed. It's a drama about a girl who eats a peanut butter sandwich, kisses a boy, and then the boy DIES because unbeknownst to the girl, he had a severe peanut allergy. But don't laugh! The reviewer refers to the book as a "...timely heartbreaker, designed to raise awareness about nut allergies..."
     From that same issue is Ayun Halliday and Paul Hoppe's Peanut, a graphic novel about a girl so desperate for popularity that she FAKES having a nut allergy, which results in an emergency medical scare involving paramedics, etc. So she's outed for NOT having nut allergies. To keep anyone from thinking the book is insensitive to those who DO have violent nut allergies, the book includes "information on what teens really go through having a life threatening food allergy." (Halliday has street cred, having created the well-known East Village Inky Zine, and writing for Bust magazine)
     I know that any kind of severe allergy is nothing to sneeze at, and I myself had to use a prescription inhaler for several years, still have to frequently pop Claritin-D, but come on. Peanuts are funny. Peanuts KILLING people is hard not to laugh at, isn't it? I am sorry. I would definitely read Halliday and Hoppe's Peanut before I'd try wading through Gurtler's Who I Kissed. But I'm sure many drama-seeking girls will love it.
     Maybe "peanut allergies" will be the next "paranormal romance!" All the teens will be clamoring for it.
     I'm trying to be sensitive, but we had a student with peanut allergies a few years ago, and at a school function he stupidly ate something that had actual obvious peanuts in it. Not just something prepared with or near peanuts, but PEANUTS sitting there IN it, not even trying to be sneaky. Anyway, he had a bad reaction, had to go to the hospital, etc. He was fine, but it was a major scene and we had to discuss awareness of nut allergies and food preparation for students. It was hard to be very sympathetic, though, because maybe the kid, who KNEW he was allergic to peanuts, should have NOT EATEN PEANUTS.
     So anyway, if you want to jump on the latest cutting-edge teen fiction trend, write something dramatic yet sensitive about the very real threat of NUT ALLERGIES. If you're REALLY ambitious, write a DYSTOPIAN teen novel about a future in which some murky government controls the populace by GIVING them peanut allergies through genetic engineering, and then controlling the food supply, thus being able to PUNISH those who disobey by slipping peanut oil into the food supply.
     Wait-- that's my idea. I should write that.