O Jacky, let me count the ways

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I am a big fan of Jacky Faber. Big fan. The Bloody Jack series by L.A. Meyer hits all my Happy Grinning Reader buttons: historical fiction in a credible world you can practically smell, characters you feel you know in real life, gripping narrative, humor…it’s all here. And there’s Jacky: the girl who has a remarkable natural talent for everything except table manners, and who seems to have done (and survived) just about everything, too. Jacky has a heart as big as all outdoors, she does, and she’ll charm that silly grin I always wear in her presence onto *your* face, too, faster than she can pull out her beloved pennywhistle and start dancing up a storm (that is, until she gets arrested for public indecency).

The books are written in first-person, primarily in Jacky’s highly distinctive voice, although other characters occasionally get to write her a letter (often at wits’ end, since those who care about her regularly do not know where she is or what fate she may have met with this time). The storytelling is irresistible, at least for my tastes, and has you traveling all over the European-known world of the early 19th century. Just by taking her chances as she sees ’em, Jacky becomes a street urchin, a sailor non-pareil, a pirate (pardon me, a privateer), a racing jockey, a card-sharp, a reluctant spy, a deep-sea diver, and proprietress of Faber Shipping Worldwide, among many other things.

If you do not love Jacky Faber, I believe I have good reason to shake my head over you, and possibly wag my finger. These are published as Young Adult fiction, and you will find them in the Teen/YA section of your library or book store, but really, everyone who loves a good yarn and a breathtakingly fun female character (character of any gender) should be reading. Run right now and get them for yourself!

And the best part is that we have her on audio. Katherine “Katy” Kellgren is a marvel and a gift to the reading universe for her voicing of Jacky, and all the other characters and accents, too. May she be blessed a thousand times over for this amazing body of work. I have listened to all the books in the series except the latest, thanks to library downloadables (yay!), and I hadn’t actually “read” any of them in print until I recently got my hands on a copy of The Wake of the Lorelei Lee. I hope that L.A. Meyer, and Kellgren, won’t stop providing us with Jacky fixes until our heroine is well into old age. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

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Teens, Young Adults: Developing Humans (ain’t we all)

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Teens’ lives are defined by a mix of dependence and independence, as well as by developmental realities that can put them at odds with the adult world. Their main task in life, which hits with an intensity that can feel like life and death, is to find out who they are, how they feel, and what they can be. They generally try to find the answers to those questions by connecting with (or trying to connect with) other teens. Popular culture, technology, and electronic environments help them connect with each other in their own, self-created worlds where most adults will fear to tread or at least not know the way. Both adults and teens have the same basic library needs for information, recreation, and connection, but the differences in their life stages require some specialized skills and knowledge for working with teens.

While it’s developmentally appropriate for teens to turn away from adults, and to at least appear to actively disregard adult authority figures, the process has the disadvantage of relying for answers on other teens—who tend to lack the clarity and perspective that would be most helpful. Teens still need adults, both to provide practical things like material security and transportation, and to provide the positive role models for what adulthood might look like and the structure and support to help them get there. Teens need mentors. They do not need adults to be their buddies, and heaven help adults who try to be “cool” with teens. What they need from adults includes respect for their abilities, energy and talents, and room to express and create themselves freely; but they also need clearly defined and consistently reinforced boundaries. Teens deserve adults who recognize the great things they are capable of, and trust them with meaningful responsibility, while remaining present for guidance and support. I rely on these standards in my own work with teens. If the library can welcome and engage teens, librarians are well-positioned to mentor them at a time when other adults in their lives (parents, teachers, school administrators) have a harder time sustaining trust.

The brains of young adults are still developing neurologically in the areas that govern what adults think of as good sense and good planning. In your teen years you are especially inclined to risk-taking and thoughtless behavior with or for your friends at a time when you can’t always see where it might lead, partly because of inexperience and partly because your brain isn’t quite there yet. Hence the need for mentors. Research has also shown another great Catch-22 of adolescent brain development: teens have difficulty accurately interpreting emotional states in facial expressions and body language. At the very moment when knowing what other people think of you is one of the prime mortal organizers of your world, you cannot rely on your ability to do so—and you don’t know it.

A key difference between working with adults and working with teens is understanding and embracing these developmental realities. The basic principles of library service remain the same for both age groups: you fulfill information requests without judgment, you respond to the interests and tastes of your audience with appropriate and appealing activities that fit their schedules, and you reach out to them with meaningful services and resources. To work well with teens you need to be attuned to their specific needs, familiar with their world and their priorities, and ready to demonstrate both your respect for them, and your requirement that they respect you and the needs of other library users.