Let’s Talk: Personal Safety

Real talk – you can die in the wilderness.

There are so many things that can happen to you when you go on an adventure outdoors. Everything from becoming injured to becoming lost. If this happens, you want to make sure you give yourself the best chance at being found and at surviving an extended period of time in the outdoors. That’s why it’s so essential to be prepared every time you go outside. Even routine day hikes can go awry and you don’t want to find yourself in a tight spot. I’d argue that day hikes have the potential to be the most dangerous as you’re more likely to have less gear with you.

So when are you most vulnerable? When you’re a beginner and when you become complacent. I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few years educating myself on being prepared, but I feel lucky nothing bad ever happened to me when I first started hiking because I just naturally knew less and didn’t understand how to really be prepared. It’s hard to be prepared when you don’t understand the risks. Search and Rescue tasks have been way up because with the pandemic, more people are looking to enjoy nature than ever before. While it’s great that more people are getting outside, it’s also super important to get educated.

But it’s not just beginners who are at risk. Those who are experienced, but become complacent in their safety, are just as much at risk. It’s still easy to take a wrong turn on the trail or find yourself hiking in the dark as you get more confident in your abilities. I’ve noticed with some of my friends, there’s a tendency to bring less stuff on hikes in an effort to lighten packs and move faster. That’s great when everything goes as planned, but you don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you left something at home that you shouldn’t have.

So whether you’re a beginner or experienced, what should you do to be prepared for a trip into the backcountry?

Create a Trip Plan

In my opinion, creating a trip plan is one of the most important things you must do. Make sure you research where you are going and outline what you expect the trip to look like. In your research of the trail or camp, you should take into consideration:

  • Seasonal conditions (will all the snow be melted? is there avalanche risk?)
  • Weather conditions (is there rain in the forecast? will it be cold?)
  • Daylight hours (how long will it take? will I be hiking in the dark?)
  • Ability (how long is the hike? how much elevation gain?)
  • Special equipment (will I need microspikes? beacon, probe, or shovel?)
  • Emergency contact (does someone know where I’m going and when I’ll return?)

Having an emergency contact who knows your trip plan is so important. If you become lost, this individual will be able to alert search and rescue quickly and advise them on where to look for you. There’s a lot of other information that can be helpful in assisting search and rescue. Leave a trip plan at BC Adventure Smart, or leave the following information with your contact:

  • Where you’ll be hiking, the route you’ll be taking, and when you’ll check in
  • What equipment you have with you
  • Identifying features of your equipment, such as jacket colour, tent brand, and hiking boots
  • Any other important medical information

10 Essentials

When I first started learning about the essentials, I thought it sounded like a lot of stuff and that it was impossible to bring everything with me on every hike. I’ve since learned that a lot of the essentials don’t actually take up that much space and many are things you would intuitively bring with you anyways.

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For example, even as a beginner I knew it was important to bring extra food and water (#1) in case the hike took longer than expected or was super challenging, and extra clothes (#2) in case it was cold at the top. What I’ve learned over the years is to always bring more water than I think I’ll need and I always bring a pack of water tabs with me as a back up (though these won’t help you on a dry hike). I also learned that your warm clothes should be more than just an extra sweater. Bring a hat and gloves, socks, a rain jacket, and warm layers made of wicking fabrics such as wool, fleece, or poly.

Other essentials that are pretty intuitive and don’t take up much space include a pocketknife or multi-tool (#3), a signaling device (#4) such as a whistle, mirror, or flare, and a headlamp or flashlight (#5). Even though it’s small, a headlamp seems to be something a lot of people leave at home. I think people just plan to use their phone flashlight if they need a light, but remember, you’ll likely be taking pictures on your phone or using it for navigation, which can run out the battery, and it may become a lifeline for you if you get lost. A head lamp enables you to be hands-free, making a dark descent safer. I recommend throwing in an extra set of batteries with your headlamp as well, just in case.

A first aid kit (#6) is also intuitive for most people, yet many hike without it. I have a pretty sizable first aid kit that I carry with me whenever I go out, but there are lots of pocket sized kits available at MEC, canadian tire, walmart, etc. Ideally everyone should have their own small kit in case they get separated and at least one person should have a more substantial kit. Some important things to carry in your kit include band-aids, blister care, dressings, gloves, medical tape, scissors, sam splint, and gauze or tensile bandage. I also like to bring polysporin, wet wipes, tweezers, electrolyte powder, and some medications (peptobismal, advil).

Essentials that can be less intuitive to bring on every day hikes include a firestarter (#7) – I bring a ziploc with waterproof matches and 2 small firestarters – and shelter (#8). I think shelter is one people could get hung up on because it sounds like you should bring a tent, but it’s really as simple as bringing an emergency blanket with you. North Shore Search and Rescue recommend pairing a bivvy sack with your thermal blanket. I keep both in my first aid kit so that I never forget them.

I want to spend a bit of time talking about the last two essentials; navigation (#9) and communication (#10), because it’s something I’ve given a lot of thought to over the past year. Also, please note, depending on the activity, your essentials list may need to expand to include other specialized gear such as PFD and spare paddle if you’re boating; transceiver, probe, and shovel if you’re in avalanche terrain; or ropes and harness if you’re climbing (as examples).

Navigation

Most people use a cell phone for navigation and communication, myself included until the past year. Options for navigation range from a map and compass, to your phone, to a GPS. Having a map is important because it will set you up for success from the beginning. It’s good to check the map in advance to identify any areas where the trail branches so you can be sure to take the right fork. Maps can become less useful if you become lost and don’t know where you are on the map (unless you’re good at identifying topography, which I still think is an important skill), which is where a GPS can become more useful.

With a GPS, you can track your steps from the very beginning, leaving a digital trail for yourself to follow back if you become lost. The good news is, you don’t really need a dedicated GPS for this and there are lots of great apps you can use directly on your phone. I don’t personally have a GPS and always use my phone, there’s just a few things you need to do in advance to make sure it will work for you in the field.

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If you’re relying on a GPS app, make sure to download the map offline before your adventure and to turn on location services. A lot of maps load from the network and you don’t want to find yourself without navigation because you forgot to pre-load the map. You also want to make sure your battery is going to last if you’re using your phone (especially if you’re also relying on your phone for communication). Make sure you have full battery before you leave and bring a power bank with you. There’s lots of trail apps out there, I personally like the GaiaGPS app. Just be aware that the trails on many apps are based on user data – just because you see a trail on the map doesn’t mean it’s safe; some trails may pass through climbing routes or only be used for winter travel, so you still need to do your research.

Communication

Communication is probably one of the hardest parts of emergency preparedness. It’s expensive to purchase satellite devices, so understandably a lot of people rely on their phones or the fact that they’re hiking in a group and have left a trip plan. The obvious problem with relying on a cell phone is that you may not always have service. If you only hike near cities with good cell service, then it’s probably fine – just make sure you know how to get your GPS coordinates off of your phone in the event you need to be rescued.

If a cell phone is your only communication device and you’re not sure if you’ll have service, then hiking in a group and leaving a trip plan with someone you trust can reduce your risk. By hiking in a group, it’s easier to manage injuries on the trail because it’s usually possible for one of your hiking mates to provide first aid or to turn back for help. It won’t be great if you have an emergency that requires a quick extraction, but at least one of your fellow hikers should be able to go for help faster than having to wait for your emergency contact to raise the alarm when you don’t check in. And in a scenario where your whole group gets lost, you still have the safeguard of your emergency contact to send Search and Rescue to look for you.

However, if you’re going to be spending any extended time in the wilderness – where help or your check in time with your emergency contact are more than a day away – then you should really either buy or rent a reliable satellite communication device for the trip. They are expensive, but it could literally save your life.

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I’m not an expert on satellite devices, so you’ll definitely want to do your own research. Options range from the SPOT, to the InReach, to a personal locator beacon. I recently purchased an InReach Mini from Garmin that I’ve been very happy with. The InReach is more expensive to buy upfront, and costs ~$15-25 a month for a basic subscription. If you won’t actually be using the device that much, you can suspend your subscription for months at a time, which is a nice feature. SPOT has a cheaper upfront cost, but I understand the annual subscription can get pricey and I haven’t heard very good things about their customer service.

The main difference between the two is that SPOT is a one way communication device, so most likely you’ll only be using it to notify your emergency contact to how the trip is going, or to activate the SOS function for emergency rescue. The InReach is a two-way communication device that works like SMS. It has the SOS function as well, but you can also send and receive texts to anyone with a cell phone or email address. Both are great if you find yourself running a day behind schedule or you have a non life-threatening injury, because you can notify your emergency contact. However, my InReach saved us a lot of grief this summer when Brandon’s car broke down on the forestry road to Cape Scott, because after hitching a ride back into town, I was still able to communicate with the group stuck on the forestry road. Plus in an emergency, it’s reassuring to get an immediate response back when you activate SOS, being able to communicate with you enables rescuers to be more prepared for your situation.

Grow Your Knowledge

That pretty much concludes this blog post – I just wanted to note that while the internet is a great resource, there are lots of hands-on ways to grow your skills as well. There are lots of organizations that offer group hikes focused on skill development and I’ve seen a lot of webinars popping up with safety and skills based workshops. Red Cross offers several first aid courses – I don’t recommend their emergency first aid course as it’s too basic, but I’ve done both their standard and wilderness first aid courses, which are excellent. If you spend a lot of time skiing or snowshoeing, I’d also recommend taking Avalanche Safety Training, or if you canoe or kayak, to take the respective training course from Paddle Canada.

Finally, check out the new docu-series on North Shore Search and Rescue, which you can stream for free on Knowledge Network. North Shore is the busiest S&R in Canada and the documentary does an excellent job showcasing the work that they do and the importance of being prepared in the backcountry. Happy adventures everyone!

Let’s Talk: Backcountry Bathrooms

Okay friends, let’s talk about using the bathroom in the outdoors. I’ve done a lot of overnight trips without bathroom facilities this year and I’m shocked by the amount of bathroom waste being left in the wilderness. I’m a wastewater engineer by trade and a passionate advocate for leave no trace camping, so let’s get dirty and talk about it!

You’d think using the bathroom in the wilderness would be intuitive, but it’s absolutely not for a lot of people, and that’s totally okay. You don’t need to feel bad if the prospect of peeing and pooping in the wilderness is scary or overwhelming for you, but you do need to do your research about it to be prepared. So I’d like to use this post to talk about some tips and proper leave no trace principles, so that we can all commit to a healthy and clean wilderness and so that Carolyn doesn’t have to avoid stepping in HUMAN POOP the next time she tries to make a bear cache.

Tip #1: Do your research about the trail

Before you go anywhere, always research the trail so that you know what to expect and ensure that the trail is within your ability. This includes checking if there are any facilities along the trail where you’ll be hiking or camping. I would say that generally, most hikes in southwestern BC have outhouses at the trailhead. There are hikes that don’t, but most hikes within provincial parks will have a toilet near the parking lot, so make sure to use it before you start your hike. Fewer hikes have outhouses at the end destination, but if it’s a popular backcountry camping location, odds are there may be an outhouse there too. Unless you have digestive concerns, for most people, access to a toilet at the start and end of the hike is usually sufficient, just make sure to bring toilet paper and hand sanitizer with you, because these are rarely guaranteed to be available.

Tip #2: Plan ahead

If access to toilets are limited, pay attention to your surroundings along the hike. If a hike has a long open section, you may want to consider using the toilet before you get to that section because there will be limited privacy later. Keep an eye open for more private areas where you can hide behind a tree, or if you need to poop, pay attention to the ground conditions and look for a spot that would be easier to dig. Take into consideration where the water sources are and avoid them or go downstream of where you collect your water. Planning ahead also includes making sure you have the right supplies with you, both for using the bathroom, and for disposing of your waste. I always bring a ziploc bag with toilet paper and hand sanitizer, plus another ziploc bag for my used toilet paper. Bring a trowel for digging catholes, or a waste disposal bag if catholes are not possible (see below).

Tip #3: Properly dispose of all bathroom waste

In my opinion, this is the hardest part and the part that most people get wrong. Never ever leave waste. I know pee tissue is gross y’all, but it’s not as gross as a beautiful trail that’s cluttered up with half de-composed pee tissue. There’s no getting around this one, unless there’s an outhouse, you just have to take it with you. Use an extra ziploc bag, double bag it, or bring an empty pringles container along with you, whatever you have to do to make it bearable. But you have to take it with you. If this is really a challenge for you, consider using the drip dry method or getting a pee cloth (see below).

Tip #4: Research proper cathole technique

I recommend using leavenotrace.ca for proper techniques, but to summarize here, the two most important considerations are location and technique. As discussed in Tip #2, find a location away from the trail, that has good soils, and that is away from or downsteam of your water source. I’ve found that soil type really is a big consideration because it influences how easy it will be to dig the cathole. Organic soils are best because they will help decomposition and are easier for digging. As for technique, the hole should be 6-8 inches deep (length of the trowel blade) and 4-6 inches wide. It’s not necessarily better to dig a deeper hole as it will be harder for the waste to decompose. Afterwards, fill the cathole with the removed dirt and disguise with other native materials. You can bury your poo tissue in the cathole, however, try to use as little as possible as it does take a while to decompose and some people recommend just taking your poo tissue with you too. For the same reason, do not try and bury your pee tissue from earlier as it’s just too much material. Overall, it is better to pack the tissue out as much as possible. Lightweight trowels are easily available at camping stores, Canadian Tire, Walmart, etc. I have a plastic Coghlan’s trowel that literally cost me $3.

Tip #5: Be prepared for your period

You can absolutely go hiking and camping on your period and it’s smart to be prepared for it. First of all, even if you’re not on or expecting your period, bring supplies for it. Hiking and camping are a big change to your normal habits and can cause your period to come early. Otherwise, dealing with your period on the trail isn’t really that different from anywhere else. Take extra care in washing and sanitizing your hands both before and after you use the toilet and pack everything out, including used tampons and pads. These will not decompose in an outhouse or cathole and may be dug up by wild animals, so they need to be packed out. Bring something a little more heavy duty for waste disposal (a pringles can instead of a ziploc) and mask the smell with other garbage, like used tea bags. As with all garbage, you need to keep it in your bear cache overnight. If you use a menstrual cup (see below), you can use a cathole to empty the cup. REI has a great article about menstruation in the backcountry if you want to read more.

Tip #6: Proper squatting technique

Some of you may laugh at me for including this one, but I still believe it’s not necessarily intuitive to everyone. The sitting position that we use on the toilet is not really a natural position for using the bathroom. Don’t try and mimic a toilet position in the wilderness, it’s tiring and not as effective. I’ve heard some people will bench against a tree for support, but my recommendation is to squat with your knees out so that you get your bottom as close to the ground as possible. Try and keep your feet a good distance apart and use your hand to brace against whatever is nearby. If you’re on a slope, pee downwards to avoid the pee running back into your shoes. Likewise, if its super windy, pee with the wind. If you still find squatting really difficult, consider getting a pee funnel to make it easier. Some people really love these, just make sure you give consideration to how you will clean and store it.

 

That’s it for my tips, but there are 3 more backcountry bathroom considerations that I’d like to discuss:

1. What to do when it’s not possible to dig a cathole? There are some situations where it’s just not possible to dig a cathole, primarily in the alpine where it is mostly rock. Fortunately I haven’t been in this situation very often and I usually try and plan ahead (i.e. poop in advance when it’s possible to bury it), but unfortunately in some cases you will just have to take your poop waste with you as well. If it’s a short haul, use a sealed container like a pringles can and dispose of it when possible by burying it or dumping in an outhouse. If it’s a long haul, consider getting a proper waste disposal bag. I don’t have experience with these myself, but there are waste disposal bags, such as the wag bag, on the market.

2. What’s the deal with menstrual cups? Menstrual cups are definitely not for everyone and if you’d prefer to continue using pads or tampons, that is totally great, though I’d recommend against free-bleed in the backcountry for wildlife reasons. Essentially, it’s a silicone cup with a stem that collects menstrual blood and is removed, dumped, and cleaned up to every 12 hours. Personally, I’ve been using a menstrual cup for several years and I absolutely love it. I find it more comfortable than tampons or pads and I like that you don’t have to change it as frequently. It’s great for the backcountry because it’s easier for disposal and you only have to carry the one little cup with you instead of a stash of products. But it’s definitely messy and that can be a challenge to manage. Always wash your hands before inserting or removing. It can also be hard to wash the cup in the backcountry, so I usually just give it a wipe with some toilet paper or pour some water on it if I’m only out for a day or two. There’s lots of cups on the market, I have only tried DivaCup, but I love it.

3. What about pee cloths? I don’t personally have experience with pee cloths since I don’t mind just dealing with pee tissue, but I’ve heard a lot of people really love them. It’s basically a microfiber quick dry cloth that can be used multiple times and then laundered after the trip. If you have one, you can carry less toilet paper and subsequently, less pee tissue. I won’t get into it because I don’t have any experience with them, but I’ve heard Kula is a great brand and recommend checking them out if you want to learn more about it.

 

And that concludes my bathroom talk. It’s important to take care of ourselves and the environment, so it’s also important to normalize talking about it. I hope you learned something and always do your best to be prepared in the wilderness!

Books I Loved in 2015

In addition to my love of travel, I’m also a great lover of books! I read a whopping 50+ books last year and these are a few of my favourites:

On The Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

book4Let’s start with my favourite read of the year; I liked it so much I read it twice in a row! On the Jellicoe Road is the story of teenager Taylor Markham, who was abandoned on the Jellicoe Road by her mother when she was a child. She is picked up by a young woman named Hannah and grows up attending Jellicoe’s boarding school for troubled youth. During the first few weeks of every year, the Jellicoe school participates in the Territory Wars with the local Townies and the Cadets. The students secretly fight over school territory behind the backs of their teachers and in her senior year, Taylor is selected as the leader for the Jellicoe School.

Taylor has spent most of her life trying to forget her sad history, but when the leader of the Cadets turns out to be an enemy from her past and Hannah disappears, leaving behind an unfinished manuscript about 5 kids, she is forced to uncover secrets about her past that have been buried and forgotten. I’ll admit, the premise of the story seemed a little strange to me at first and the narrative is a little hard to follow at the beginning, but this is a wonderful book about friendship, family, love, and loss. The relationships in this book are so touching and real and watching all the friendships grow is what made this book a huge winner for me!

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

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A satirical novel set in Seattle about 15-year old Bee and her eccentric mother Bernadette. My book club selected this book as a “light read” after completing several heavy-themed books, and it did not disappoint! After Bee receives a glowing report card, she convinces her reluctant parents to take her to Antarctica for a family trip. Bee’s father is a high level executive at a tech company, so the trip planning falls mostly on Bee’s reclusive mother, Bernadette. After a number of unfortunate (and hilarious) incidents at Bee’s private school, Bernadette’s social anxiety begins to get the better of her and shortly before the trip, she disappears without a trace! The story is told through a series of emails and documents that Bee compiles in her attempt to track down her mother. This is a laugh-out-loud book about Seattle, private school, the tech industry, virtual living, and finding yourself; I would highly recommend it if you’re looking for a laugh!

Girl at War by Sara Novic

girl at warFinally, some historical fiction about Croatia! I travelled to Croatia in 2012 and aside from being totally enchanted by the beautiful landscapes; I was fascinated by Croatia’s turbulent recent history. My knowledge of the Bosnian War and the break-up of Yugoslavia was unfortunately quite incomplete when I travelled to Croatia. Since historical fiction is one of my favourite ways to learn about history, I looked for related books when I returned and had a hard time finding one about Croatia until now. Girl at War tells the story of Ana Juric’s life in Croatia as a young girl in the early 1990’s and later as a student in America. Ana escapes to America after a truly horrific experience and tries to move on by forgetting her former life. After being asked to speak at the UN about her experience during the war, Ana decides it is finally time to return to Croatia to face the ghosts of her past. This story is heart-breaking, but incredibly well written and moving.

Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution by Laurie Penny

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As you may gather from this list, I like reading about women and I like challenging my thinking on gender equality and women’s issues. Unspeakable Things was definitely my favourite read on the topic this year. In this book, Laurie Penny talks about gender, power, and – the relatively new medium which makes things so much easier and yet so much more complicated – the internet. Feminism needs to be inclusive of all women – black, fat, lesbian, bi, transgender, poor, sick, or disabled – and Penny really challenged my thinking on women’s issues and “white feminism”. This book helped me push my thinking on intersectionality and I hope it has helped me be a better feminist!

The Thing about Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

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This book is targeted at middle school age, but I really think anyone can enjoy this novel. When 12-year old Suzy is informed by her mother that her best friend Frannie has drowned just days before she starts 7th grade, she has no idea how to process her grief. Frannie was an excellent swimmer and Suzy can’t accept this simple account of how her friend was taken from her, especially after their unresolved fight at the end of 6th grade. Her feelings of guilt and of frustration at the adults in her life causes Suzy, a compulsive talker, to stop speaking entirely. But everything changes on a class field trip to the aquarium when Suzy learns about a rare jellyfish and becomes convinced that Frannie was killed by a jellyfish sting. She just has to prove it to everyone else. This novel is written in beautiful prose and tells a moving story of how Suzy comes to terms with the death of her friend.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

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Big Little Lies focuses on the lives of three women whose children just started kindergarten at Pirriwee Public School. There’s charismatic Madeline and her talkative daughter who is placed in a class with her ex-husband’s child; wealthy Celeste and her energetic twin boys; and quiet, single mother Jane with her little boy Ziggy. When one of the other children is bullied and Ziggy is blamed, tensions escalate quickly. We know from the beginning of the story that a kindergarten parent has been murdered, and as the story unfolds it leaves you wondering who could have possibly been murdered and how! It’s a very lighthearted novel that deals with some pretty intense issues – murder, sexual violence, domestic abuse, playground bullies, and helicopter parents – but never feels dark or overwhelming. The characters are well written and believable; I liked that this was a fun, easy read, but that I feel better for having read it.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

fangirlI know Rainbow Rowell is super popular right now, but I was only introduced to her earlier this year when my book club read one of her other novels, Attachments. I really didn’t like Attachments, so I had trouble understanding Rowell’s appeal until I decided to give her another chance with Fangirl. Fangirl is about Cath Avery’s first year at college and how she struggles to leave behind the comforts of her childhood, namely her obsession with the popular Simon Snow fantasy series. The Simon Snow series represents the real-life Harry Potter series, and as a huge HP fangirl myself I was interested in the ‘fangirl’ storyline. Unfortunately, I think the fan aspect of this story was a little lacking and actually the weaker part of the story, but I loved the characters in this book and I loved reading about Cath’s struggles with her sister, boys, and with adjusting to college life. The characters and their struggles are so relatable and that was what made this book a win for me.

Ipanema Turtles: A South American Adventure by Bike by Laura Mottram

book10I stumbled upon this book when I was looking for literature to read about Brazil before I went on my trip. It only has about a dozen reviews on goodreads, so I’m happy to recommend it to more people!  It’s a memoir about an English couple, Laura and Paddy, who take a year-long break from their lives to cycle around South America. They start on Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro and cycle more than 20,000 kms, through every country in South America, before returning (like turtles) back to the same beach where they began. The story is written by Laura using her travel diaries. It’s not the best travel writing I’ve read because Laura is not a writer and has never written a book before, but it’s personal and I really enjoyed traveling along with the couple on what must have been an incredible journey. Both characters are relatable – I didn’t feel like Laura or Paddy were so different from myself – which is what made their journey so believable and exciting!

The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women by Jessica Valenti

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I always knew America had a bit of an obsession with virginity, but I never realized how deeply ingrained the idea of sexual purity is in American culture. I was genuinely shocked by some of the things I learned from this book, such as the existence of “purity balls” where girls and their fathers attend a ball for the daughter to sign a pledge of abstinence to her father, who is viewed as the keeper of her virginity until marriage. Government funded abstinence-only education is incredibly prevalent in parts of America, where school curriculum includes comparing sexually active girls to a piece of tape that gets dirtier every time you re-use it (or have sex with a new partner). This was a really eye-opening book on how America fetishizes virginity, uses “sexual purity” to control, de-value, and shame women, and attempts to limit women’s sexual freedom and autonomy. (Follow this book with a reading of “Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights” by Katha Pollitt if you want to be really disgusted)

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

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This graphic novel is awesome! The story is great, the message is great, the artwork is great – it’s just fun all around. Nimona is a young shapeshifter who teams up with supervillain Lord Blackheart to take on Sir Goldenloin and his cronies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics. The Institution is supposed to protect the Kingdom, but when Nimona discovers that they’re actually lying to the peasants and putting them in danger, she wants to strike back! Nimona is impulsive, funny, and boy does she have character. If you love a book where the good guys are the bad guys, science is revered, and the hero is a chubby, red-headed girl – then this is the book for you. It’s laugh-out-loud funny and really enjoyable to read!

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

book2This story opens in the mid 1970’s when teenager Lydia Lee turns up dead in the local lake. The police chalk her death up to suicide by drowning, but Lydia’s parents can’t believe their beautiful, popular, and intelligent daughter would kill herself and suspect foul play. Lydia’s parents, Marilyn and James, are a mixed race couple with two other children, Nath and Hannah. When I picked this book up, I thought it might be a mystery or thriller, but it’s really a simple story about relationships. We get to experience the story from the point of view of each family member as their histories, personalities, fears, and dreams are revealed to us over the course of the novel. It’s not a fast paced book, but it’s well written and I really enjoyed the character development throughout the story.

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

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Everyone loves Sophie Kinsella, but after you’ve read so many of her books (like I have), it can start to get a little repetitive. Finding Audrey is her first young adult novel and was definitely a change of pace from her other material. After a bullying incident goes awry, 14-year old Audrey develops severe social anxiety and agoraphobia, refusing to leave the house, talk to anyone, or take off her dark sunglasses. This book is about Audrey’s family and her brother’s friend Linus and how they encourage Audrey as she deals with her anxiety. It’s a surprisingly funny book about family, relationships, and mental illness. It’s a sweet and simple story and I loved Audrey’s crazy and supportive family!