Monthly Archives: May 2015

How We Talk To Youth About Abstinence

May 28, 2015

AbstinenceThere’s been an article circulating for the past couple of days that really got my attention. It’s called The Damaging Effects of Shame-Based Sex Education: Lessons From Elizabeth Smart, by Kristen Howerton.

I highly recommend you give it a read, but the gist of it is that a person’s worth is not tied to their status as a virgin or non-virgin, and we need to be so careful about the way we teach abstinence to youth. Shame should not be the driving force behind a teenager’s decision to not have sex.

The article got me thinking a lot. I am LDS (Mormon) and was raised that way. I attended church every week and was taught by my leaders that sex was reserved for after marriage and that I should be careful to keep myself “pure” so that I could get married in the temple and ride off into the sunset to have a thousand babies. I don’t remember ever having one of those horrible “no one wants gum that’s already been chewed” lessons, but chastity was talked about often, albeit in a vague sort of way.

All that was super easy until I was about 15 and my family moved from Salt Lake City, Utah to Florence, Italy. It was like being dropped onto a whole different planet. Gone were the days of nervous hand-holding and pecks. Suddenly my young dating life was full of french kissing and turning down sex on a regular basis. And here’s that part that really surprised me.

I wanted to have sex.

Like really.

And I’d had no idea I’d feel that way. From the way I’d been taught at church, I’d thought it would come down to me having to put my foot down when some nondescript boy tried to pressure me into doing things I didn’t want to do. I was completely unprepared for the fact that maybe I’d actually want to do those things, and that maybe I’d really like said boy, and oh great. Hormones. This was my struggle for the next seven years. I cared about my church’s teachings and I really did want to wait for marriage, but I also wanted to have sex. Now. And I had no idea how to reconcile that.

This was seriously tricky business. I had lots of boyfriends, some Mormon, some not, and in almost every relationship it was a struggle. Whenever I felt like things had gone too far I ended up beating myself up about it. I was stuck in this awful cycle: slip up, feel awful, repent. {Rinse and repeat.} At one point I had a church leader tell me that there may be a limit to the amount of times God will forgive us. (Can I just add that I disagree with that wholeheartedly?)

It was a struggle, to say the least. And when my wedding day arrived I was almost as excited to stop living in that cycle as I was to




So what’s my point with all this (besides some ridiculous oversharing)? My point is, I am really grateful that I didn’t have sex until marriage (I felt strongly about it and I think it saved me from a lot of heartache), but I also wish I’d been a whole lot gentler on myself. I think I was afraid I’d make such a big mistake that I’d never come back from it, and the fact of the matter is–that is never true. Ever.

If adult me could sit down raging teenager me and give her some advice I would say this:

Turns out sex is going to be a big deal to you, and even though it isn’t going to be easy, it is going to be okay. It is a great thing to strive to live up to the things you believe in, but you also need to remember that you’re a human (and a teenage one at that), and you are absolutely going to fall short of your own expectations. But guess what? That’s the whole point of being alive.  You’re here to grown and learn, and no matter what choices you make you are valuable in the sight of God. Also, maybe just choose one guy to make out with on prom night. They might compare notes the next morning, and yikes. That could get embarrassing.

So here’s my big message today. No matter what your stance is on sex outside of marriage, and no matter whether you’ve lived up to that or not, you are valuable, no matter what. You are important, no matter what. Do your best to do what you think is right, and then when you fall short, well, remember that’s the point. We are not the sum total of the things we do or don’t do right.

We are so much more than that.


the 8 books I recommend most often

May 26, 2015

Book I Tell Everyone AboutIf you were to say, “Jenna, I’m going on a trip and I need something to read” or “Jenna, I can’t stand the thought of rereading Fifty Shades of Gray one more time” or “Jenna, you know how to read, right? What do you suggest?” These are the novels I would most likely tell you about. They left me with my mouth hanging open. Really. And some of them (Like Yellow Raft in Blue Water) I reread every few years so they can blow my mind all over again. So listen up, friends. I’m about to make your reading life a whole lot awesome-er. (Really-er.)

1. Everything I Never Told You: A Novel, by Celeste Ng. This is the story of a blended Chinese-American family living in a small town in the 1970s. It’s told from a bunch of different perspectives and put me into one of my I’m Never Going to Be That Good of a Writer depressive episodes. I promise you’ll love it. Also, could someone help me out with how to pronounce the author’s last name?

2. The Rosie Project: A Novel, by Graeme Simsion. Hands down the funniest narrator I have ever encountered. I was literally LOL’ing from my seat in 18B. Professor Don Tillman (brilliant, but not exactly what you’d call “street smart”) embarks on a scientific quest to find the perfect mate. Read this book then give it to your saddest friend. It will cheer them right up!

3. The Husband’s Secret, by Liane Moriarty. This is actually the one I recommend most often, because it’s fun and engaging and everyone I know who’s read it really loved it. Cecelia is living a happy life when she finds a letter written by her husband that is intended for her to read after his death. Except he’s alive. And her whole life is about to get thrown off course.

4. The Kitchen House: A Novel, by Kathleen Grissom. Wow. Wow. Okay, I don’t really know where to start with this one, except this was in my top 10 best reading experiences of my entire life. Set on a plantation in pre-civil war Virginia, Lavinia is a white indentured servant who is embraced as family by the plantation’s slaves. Where her life takes her and the way the story unfolds totally rocked me. Also, make sure you read at the end where she got the idea for the story–it gives me goosebumps!

5. The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel, by Diane Setterfield. A young biographer is called upon to write the story of a legendary writer, and the story that unfolds is gothic, and mysterious and so utterly engrossing I wish I could read it again and not see what was coming.

6. Where’d You Go, Bernadette: A Novel, by Maria Semple. There’s a restaurant near my house that serves a gigantic slice of bliss that goes by the name of Tollhouse Pie. It’s warm and buttery with big chunks of chocolate and walnuts and every time I eat it I wonder why I ever bother eating anything else. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is Tollhouse Pie in book form. Bernadette Fox is notorious for her bad behavior, and when she goes missing her daughter starts compiling all her correspondence to piece together where she’s gone. I loved this book. Like more than a friend.

7. A Yellow Raft in Blue Water: A Novel, by Michael Dorris. This is my favorite book. (I mean that.) Of the thousands I have read and loved, this is the one. One day I’ll write a separate post on it, but for now let me just tell you it’s the story of a grandmother, a mother, and a daughter and tells the story of their life from each of their perspectives. Mysterious Ida, train-wreck Christine, and lost Rayona. I think about them all the time.

8. The Patron Saint of Liars, by Ann Patchett. I have a writer crush on Ann Patchett. Like really. All of her books are unbelievable, but this is my most loved. And it also happens to be the one that launched her career. Pregnant Rose shows up at a home for unwed mothers and then stays. And stays. Even when her past refuses to remain in the past.

I hope you absolutely love these books. And if I ever develop amnesia like Drew Barrymore on 50 First Dates, would you please instruct my husband to leave these books in a pile on my bedside? And will you please, please tell me what books you recommend? I need a new book.



May 22, 2015

I can do anything

On the eve of my son’s first birthday I got some news. Bone melting news. My dream of publishing a young adult novel was suddenly a reality and OMG was I dreaming? It was like winning the lottery. Suddenly I had a publisher, an agent, and an honest to goodness book deal and what?  Simon & Schuster wanted to set up a phone call and they needed my bank info so they could wire me my advance, and oh by the way, they needed my author photo and bio?

I didn’t sleep for a solid 72 hours.

My deal was different than most because it was basically this: We think you’re a good writer, and we think people are going to like your book, but you’re going to have to rewrite it. How does one year sound?

And thus began my life as a nap time writer. And by that, I mean I kept my most important job as a full time mom to what may be the fastest toddler on the planet but also had to figure out a way to squeeze in some writing time. Okay, a lot of writing time.

This was really, truly (really) not easy. (Did I mention I’m mother to the fastest toddler on the planet?)

The first few weeks I decided to just stop sleeping. I’d stay up all night writing and take care of toddler by day. Perfect, right? What could go wrong?

(Cut to me sobbing into a carton of Cool Whip at 3 AM.)

So then I started the actual work of finding more time. It was a huge process and required a whole lot of patience on the part of my husband, but I did figure it out, and over a year later I am the proud author of a novel I cannot wait to shove in people’s faces. So where did all that extra time come from? Some was paid for, some was borrowed, but a lot of it came down to my big lesson of the year:


And by that, I mean, if I want to be a full time mom and a writer I can totally make that work. But  if I want to be a full time mom and a writer, and part time employee and dedicated yogi and a perfect housekeeper and a gardener and volunteer and keep up on all my favorite blogs, and get my hair done every six weeks….well, that’s not going to work.

So here’s what I did:

  • I hired a babysitter for 8 hours a week
  • I gave up my yoga membership and started doing shorter workout videos at home
  • I stopped spending nap time doing stupid stuff like surfing the Internet
  • I pretended to not notice all the weeds in my yard
  • I stopped blogging (sorry)
  • I took people up on their offers when they asked to watch Sam
  • I let my hair get long and scraggly
  • I told my dad I still really wanted to work as his writing assistant, but I could only do the actual writing assistant part and not the other things (events, fan mail, websites, etc.)
  • I shuffled our finances so I could hire a housecleaner to come twice a month
  • For several months I got up at 6 AM to write for two hours before the day started
  • I got good at quick dinners
  • I hung out with my friends less
  • I gratefully GRATEFULLY allowed my husband to take on more than his fair share
  • I sometimes wore my clothes twice because no one had time to do the laundry
  • I lost a lot of sleep

I know I am crazy privileged to have been able to do things like hire outside help, and I am also blessed with a lot of family/friend support. But my point is, even if you are a young mom, or you’re supporting your family, or you’re taking care of your aging parents or you have a super demanding job or WHATEVER, I really think you can find a way to do the one thing you truly want to do. (Really.)

So here’s my advice to you. If you find something that makes you want to sing from the rooftops and has you waking up from a dead sleep to scribble wildly on a pad of paper you keep next to your bed, then find a way to do it. Even if its for ten minutes a day.

Because seriously, people. That’s what we’re here for. Don’t give up!

(Imagine a swell of inspiring music.)

XO. And thank you so much for reading my blog, it means a lot to me!


8 YA Books You Should Read Immediately

May 21, 2015

YA COLLAGEPeople ask me things all the time. Things like,

  • Who told you that baby wipe baths are an acceptable alternative to the real thing?
  • Why are you feeding your two-year-old a diet that is 60% condiments?
  • Did you really wake up in the middle of the night because a clown was playing circus music over the baby monitor and drag your husband halfway to the baby’s room before realizing it was a dream?

I’m not going to answer any of those questions. They apply to parenting, and I’m obviously killing it in that department. KILLING it. But there is one question I am always happy to answer.


And seriously, don’t ask me if you don’t  want an answer. Because I will give you a recommendation. Or three. And then I’ll probably bring up books every time I see you, so then you’ll be like “Hey, I just asked you the one time so we’d have something to talk about, and now you think we’re having an impromptu book club meeting every time we see each other.”

Sorry about that.

But I’m really not sorry about this list I’m going to give you today. You will LOVE it. It’s a list of novels written for teens* and they’re smart and funny and made me turn green up to my eyeballs because I wished I’d written even just one sentence of them.

*ADULTS. Listen to me. YA novels are for you too. You are going to dive into these and love them because you were once a teenager, and regardless of how magical or horrible your teen years were, I’ll bet you anything you think about them often. And I bet you remember how much you FELT every little thing, and how up and down things were, and how bad and how GOOD it all could be. So take a minute to relive it all, okay? Because I know being an adult can feels like milk toast. Reject the milk toast. But keep saving for retirement, because really. You’re an adult now. You have to do crap like that.

1. Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell. I’m not even going to tell you about this one, just GO READ IT IMMEDIATELY. Fall in love. Get your heartbroken. Remember what it felt like to be a misfit.

2. Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins. I have to admit I was totally put off by the title. It sounded kind of…cheesy? But I figured 800+ ecstatic Amazon reviews couldn’t be wrong, so I gave it a shot and suddenly I was falling headfirst into Anna’s year in Paris and falling for the divine Etienne and OMG my head exploded. And so did my little sister’s. Really, so so fun.

3. Out of Reachby Carrie Arcos. So smart, so lovely, what a whirlwind. A girl goes looking for her drug addict brother. LOVED this. As I finished the last paragraph I thought “Now THAT’s what a YA novel should be.”

4. Where Things Come Back, by John Corey Whaley. Two stories in one–which I love–and you won’t believe how they tie together. Cullen’s cousin overdoses, his small hometown becomes obsessed with the reappearance of a rare woodpecker, and his 15-year-old brother goes missing. Get ready to stay up late reading.

5. An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green. Did you think I’d make this list without one John Green book? No. Heavens no. He’s like YA royalty, and if I ever get the chance to meet him I’ll probably get all sweaty and awkward and before I know it say something ridiculous that I’ll regret for absolutely the rest of my life. But this BOOK! So fun. The premise killed me. And John Greene’s writing is just so damn special. I can’t get over it.

6. Something Real, by Heather Demetrios. This is about a girl whose entire crazy life (she’s one of 13 kids) has been recorded on reality TV. For a few perfect months she gets the chance to live a normal life, but when the cameras come swooping back in she has to decide what she really wants. I’ve basically been singing from the rooftops about this one. SUCH GREAT WRITING. I was so unbelievably sucked in.

7. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie. You know and LOVE the character in approximately six words. Gorgeous writing, important themes, BEAUTIFUL.

8. The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, by Jennifer E Smith. Hadley and Oliver meet on a flight to London. She’s flying to attend (reluctantly) her father’s second wedding. And he’s flying…why? Lots of fun.

BONUS: (SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION) Love & Gelato, by Jenna Evans Welch. Lina’s had a bad year. The worst, really. And now she’s leaving the shreds of her life to travel halfway across the world to live with a father she just found out about. Oh, and minor detail. He lives right smack dab in the middle of the cemetery. And his past with Lina’s mother? Pretty shady. Part mystery, part ice cream, part love story, I can honestly say I’ve been losing sleep over this story for a good year now. I will be adding a pre-order link the second it’s available, but for now, plan on Spring 2016. And pray I’ll survive this next round of edits!

DOUBLE BONUS: I didn’t list the Michael Vey series because you’ve already read it and are anxiously awaiting book #5, correct? If not, start with Michael Vey: Prisoner of Cell 25. It’s fun, adventure packed, super creative, and wow. That guy really knows what he’s doing. But don’t take my word for it. Check out the over 1,000 Amazon ratings with an average of 4.5 stars.

Happy reading! What YA novels have you loved?