Toronto book club helps teen girls find their voice

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Toronto book club helps teen girls find their voice

She had a troubled youth, a dysfunctional family and was a victim of abuse, but one Toronto woman has found a way to turn that experience into a positive one for teen girls.

Tanya Marie Lee said her saving grace during that time came from books and reading.  

"I suffered a lot of abuse and I was silenced. The one thing that I loved was reading," she told Here and Now's Colette Kennedy. "And reading saved me."

Lee would go to the library talk to the librarians and find solace and strength in the stories she read.

Now as an adult, she is combining that love of reading and the empowerment it gave her into A Room of Your Own, a book club for girls 13-18 years of age from schools in under-serviced areas in Toronto. The club meets monthly and meetings are an hour in length.

Lee, who runs the clubs with her friend Joan Hutton as volunteers, says she strives to give young girls a voice. She also wants to give participants the tools to become "strong, confident" young women.

"Just the fact that they have a safe zone to come out and be a girl and express what it's like being a girl in today's society without being put down," she said. "That's really important."

That voice is something some members say they now have.

"Due to the fact it's an all-girls book club, I feel like we just have a stronger voice," Mashyat Huque, 14, says.

"We do feel like we're the powerful ones in the room."

According to the Toronto Public Library, the book club is targeted at girls of all races and backgrounds.

"Allowing them to express their curiosity, ambitions, hopes and frustrations, A Room of Your Own is a forum to share fun, feelings, and opinion with their peers and with their favourite authors," the library says on its website.

"This fully interactive book club for teenage girls will discuss all subject matters that pertain to being young and maturing into adulthood via today's standards and pressures."

Lee and Hutton choose female authors for the club to read. A lot of the authors are from Toronto and the books feature strong female protagonists.

The books are provided by the publishers, and the girls even get a chance to meet the writers.

'Dream come true'

Author of the True Born trilogy, L.E. Sterling met with A Room of Your Own and said it was like "a dream come true for writers."

"It's an immense honour to be a part of this," she said. "The young ladies are amazing. They're friendly, they're outgoing, they're engaged, and they seem like very strong and powerful young voices."

It's not just authors that the club has met. Mayor John Tory also spent some time with A Room of Your Own.

Lee doesn't plan to stop with A Room of Your Own. She is planning on starting a book club for women 19 and older that focuses on mental health.

A Room of Your Own started in January. If teachers from schools in under-serviced areas would like their students to participate, they are urged to contact Lillian H. Smith Library at (416) 393-7746.