Category Archives: My books

Let’s stick it to Betsy DeVos

My next book is NO MORE EXCUSES: DISMANTLING RAPE CULTURE. It will be available early next year from Twenty-First Century Books. As many of you know, the writing of this book was devastatingly difficult. I spent months in dark places, wrestling with the reality of sexual assault in this country. I envisioned this book as a road map to a better place–a place where we can be safe in our own bodies, a place where mutual respect and enthusiastic consent are norms not exceptions.

Kirkus calls this book “a laudably current guide to rape culture.” This is an important and timely book. It doesn’t shy away from the hard truths, but it’s not hopeless either. I wish I could put it in the hands of every single teen, especially now that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is rolling back hard-won protections for victims of sexual assault and harassment in schools.

California Representative Maxine Waters says the DeVos approach “will prioritize the interests of the institutions and the accused, while undermining protections for survivors.” The net result will be that fewer survivors will come forward and more perpetrators will be free to continue committing violence.

The best way to make sure this book finds its way to as many readers as possible is to get it into school libraries and public libraries. Join me in sticking it to Betsy DeVos. Submit a purchase request to your local public library. It’s easy. Usually all you have to do is search for “suggest a purchase” on the library website and fill in the critical information:

Title: NO MORE EXCUSES: DISMANTLING RAPE CULTURE
Author: Amber J. Keyser
Publisher: Twenty-First Century Books
Year: 2019
ISBN: 978-1-5415-4020-0
Audience: Teen
Genre: Nonfiction
Format: Book

Of course you are also welcome to preorder a copy for yourself from your local indie bookstore or direct from the publisher.

Purchase links: Lerner Publishing, Barnes and NobleAmazon, and IndieBound.

*The book is published in a super strong binding designed for decades of use in libraries. That’s why it’s kind of expensive. Direct from Lerner is the best price.

Thanks, friends.
Let’s fix this rape-y culture we live in.
Our kids deserve better.
XO from me (as long as you consent).

Getting Married?

It must be review time! This is a nice one from School Library Journal about my new book TYING THE KNOT: A WORLD HISTORY OF MARRIAGE:

What’s love got to do with it? Not much, Keyser asserts in this examination of the history of marriage. Up until about 250 years ago, marriage was mainly a transaction or union of couples that entailed political, social, and economic factors. Her discussion of traditions and customs from different cultures and countries is a fascinating and insightful one. All types of unions are explored in this book, including levirate, same-sex, green card, and polyandry marriages. Keyser is straightforward and objective in her examination of different views on the institution. She highlights how changes in society (women’s rights, economic conditions, divorce rates, etc.) as well as a general shifting of attitudes has greatly affected marital unions. Keyser’s book is well researched and greatly illustrated with photographs. VERDICT This highly readable text would be a commendable addition to a social science collection for its pertinent information on cultural studies.

Beyonce, the Male Gaze, Feminism, and Underwear

Stoked to get this great review from School Library Journal for UNDERNEATH IT ALL: A HISTORY OF WOMEN’S UNDERWEAR.

The biologist and writer offers a fascinating examination of an often under-explored facet of life—underwear. Undergarments for women have evolved throughout the centuries from simple, plain cloth tunics and elaborate corsets made with steel or whalebone stays and to today’s contemporary bralettes and more. Historically, Keyser asserts, underwear is designed to create what ever is perceived as a perfect body. Examples are the Gibson Girl and today’s Victoria Secret Angels. The book is divided into eight chapters that follow a historical time line and place the garments in perspective with the events and culture of the time period discussed. Chapters are illustrated and contain sidebars. The writing utilizes contemporary language and examples, citing Beyoncé and ad campaigns that challenge stereotypical views of beauty. Highlights of the book are the author’s citation of women historians, writers, and entrepreneurs. VERDICT A bit niche but endlessly fascinating, a great addition to nonfiction collections.

Editorial Cross-Pollination: Alix Reid from Carolrhoda Lab

My recent novel POINTE, CLAW came out the same day as WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE OF, a powerful novel about love and anti-love, female power and self-sabotage by Elana K. Arnold. She and I recently completed a West Coast book tour for these two books. We hit cities from LA to Seattle talking about  Feminism and the Female Body. You can read our notes from the road here and here and here.

Our novels are twins of a sort. Not only did they come out on the same day but both are heart-wrenching and rage-y explorations of what it means to be a girl in a girl’s body at this time and place in history, when the physical and emotional well-being of women is under assault. Elana and I also share an editor,  Alix Reid, the Executive Editor of Carolrhoda Books and Carolrhoda Lab, whose insights shaped our stories.

We asked Alix what it was like to work on these two books at the same time. Here’s what she said:

It was so exciting for me to have two books on my list, POINTE, CLAW and WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE OF, that both dealt with how young women are boxed into narrow definitions of what it means to be female and feminine and feminine “enough.” Although entirely different in content, the themes of each book touched on one another and made me ever more aware of how important it is to speak UP and speak OUT about ways in which girls are put in boxes, are silenced, are made to feel less than.

Both books show how ingrained patriarchy is, buried even in the girls themselves, so that they are the ones who are monitoring their own femininity as much as the outside world. I think that was one of the richest parts of working on these books for me—both Amber and Elana understood that what can pose the most danger to young women’s sense of themselves is that they unconsciously absorb false messages about what it means to be a girl the world around them—that they are they become their own jailers, in some sense, inflicting punishment on themselves if they feel they are not somehow matching an external definition of femininity.

We need books like POINTE, CLAW and WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE OF to show readers the dangers inherent in what continues to be a patriarchal culture, and we continue to need stories of girls who transcend the narrow definitions of femininity that can bind them and restrict them. Books like these two give girls ways of seeing they are not alone, show them how easy it is to get caught up in false definitions of femininity, and give them ways of thinking differently about themselves in ways that aren’t preachy or heavy-handed.

Editing these two books brought back many memories from when I was a teenager, and reminded me of by my own doubts and fears about whether I was a “good girl.” I wish I’d had these books to read back then—I know they would have helped me!

Q2: The Brutality of Ballet

As POINTE, CLAW leaps into the world, I thought I might answer some questions posed by readers…

Q2: Is ballet really that competitive?

Yes.

At least at the elite levels it is.

Ballet is very much a metaphor for being female in this society. Little girls take ballet and fall in love with dance and tutus and pink tights and sparkles. As they grow, they are further indoctrinated (yes, I use that word on purpose) into believing that they can become ballerinas. They compete with each other and are brutal on themselves (dieting, purging, starving) all so they can achieve a dream (like being the “perfect” woman).

The dream is actually impossible for all but the smallest fraction of women because of factors completely outside our control: genetics and physiology. As teens, our bodies go wildly out of control (like Dawn’s in POINTE, CLAW) and most of us discover that we will never be “perfect” because that definition is so narrow, but by then, we are so firmly brainwashed that we keep trying to match what we see on stage (or on magazine covers).

As long as women continue to buy into the idea of the “perfect woman,” we will continue to do violence to ourselves and other women. This is POINTE, CLAW.

Q1: On the Meaning of Names

As POINTE, CLAW leaps into the world, I thought I might answer some questions posed by readers…

Q1: What are the significance (if any) of the names in the story, particularly Jessie and Dawn?

This book began with two visceral images.

The first—a dancer taking off her pointe shoes and seeing that they are full of blood. This happened. The dancer was me. The blood was mine. Jessie contains so much of my real life that I gave her a version of my middle name, Jessen.

The second image—a girl disappearing into the forest at at daybreak. The sun rises through mist and birdsong. The end of this book is the beginning of a new day, a new life. Even though she is a carnal and earthy character, Dawn is dawn—full of promise.