Category Archives: glbt
Title: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Author: Benjamin Alire Saenz
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Release Date: 2012
Length: 359 page; 7 hours and 29 minutes
Genre: YA Contemporary
Source: Review copy from publisher
I would have never picked this book up on its own. It never would have made its way to my radar without winning a 2013 Printz Honor medal AND a Stonewall Book Award (AND a Belpre!) this January. Oh, a Stonewall award, you say? Hm.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a coming-of-age book about two awkward Mexican teenage boys growing up in the 1980s. Aristotle (Ari) is closed off from everyone, even himself. Dante, though also awkward, is brilliant and surprisingly confident. The two meet at the swimming pool one summer and become fast, intense friends. Ari needs Dante’s blunt questions, and Dante needs a loyal, non-judgemental friend. But life gets complicated. Emotions get complicated. Ari must learn who he is.
This is a quiet novel. It’s beautiful, lyrical, and emotional. Remember when I raved over the incredible feelings I experienced in The Sea of Tranquility? I would say Aristotle and Dante gave me a similar experience. I feel in love with both of these boys, felt the tension, and wanted to give everyone around me hugs. I HAVE JUST READ THIS INCREDIBLE BOOK AND I WANT TO HUG EVERYONE. Yeah, it was like that.
The desert setting (El Paso, Texas) was an interesting feature of the story. Ari and Dante spend a lot of time driving out to the desert to look at the stars, often with varying combinations of friends or girlfriends. It essentially reminded me of every single Counting Crows album I own. Sometimes books have soundtracks in my head, but this connection was so obvious that I can’t help myself! In particular, the song “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby” was fitting. It’s one of my favorite songs, but I can’t embed the video from Germany (you can check it out on YouTube if you’re interested). Anyways, it’s this stanza from the song that sums up the novel:
“We drove out to the desert just to lie down beneath this bowl of stars
We stare up at the Palace like it’s the last of the great Pioneertown bars
We shout out these songs against the clang of electric guitars
You can see a million miles tonight
But you can’t get very far”
Since the book won a Stonewall, it obviously gets the LGBT tag. But I can’t really say why, because that would be spoiler-tastic. Let’s just say it’s more coming-of-age than LGBT, which is exactly what I’m looking for. Being LGBT does not define a character or a person, is one aspect of a greater life lived. That being said, this is far and away the best YA LGBT book I have read to date. So kudos, Benjamin Alire Saenz — you deserve every single award sticker on the front of your book.
FINAL GRADE: A Read it. It is a little slow at the beginning — Ari is a hard narrator to connect with, but that is by design (he can’t even connect with himself!). Honestly, I should just read every Printz novel because they are always stellar. This isn’t an action-packed, surprise-twist kind of novel. It’s not a romance or a trilogy, and there are no kick-ass female protagonists to be found. But it’s good. It gets the Tara stamp of approval.
Required Reading: Required for anyone interested in Mexican authors, books set in Texas, coming-of-age novels, literary fiction, fans of The Sea of Tranquility, and, of course, readers of LGBT fiction.
Library Recommendation: Put it in a high school library. As always, I would put it in my middle school library, but I’m a rebel. There are references to drinking, drinking and driving, sex, sexual feelings, and drug use. However, the parents presented in the novel are excellent representations of involved, realistic parents. I think all of the above issues are discussed by the parents with their children at various points in the novel.
Thoughts on the book? What was your favorite 2013 award-winning novel?
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the bloggers over at the Broke and the Bookish. Book bloggers from all around create lists based on the chosen topics, and post links to the host blog to share our love of books. This week we are looking at topics that grab our attention. We all have them. It might genres, settings, themes, but we have our bookish tendencies.
Top Ten Words/Topics That Will Make Me Pick Up A Book
[I'm so easy.]
Which words and topics grab your attention?
Last weekend, the Durham Public Library held ComicFest 2013. One of my favorite graphic novelist, Raina Telgemeier, just so happened to be one of the main events. So, of course, I dropped all of my studying for the afternoon to watch Raina speak and draw. I also got my copies of Smile and Drama signed.
Raina’s presentation was awesome, and it really shed some light on the process of creating a graphic novel. I was aware that they are far more labor intensive than text novels (something we as librarians struggle with — these books are lost more often, but cost more to buy). She said she spent five years on Smile and two and half years on Drama!
I love Raina’s work. More importantly, my students loved her work. I did not discover her on my own! It was the intense demand for Smile at a 2010 book fair the put her on my radar. I think I had to buy eight copies to meet the demand in my school. There are not many graphic novels geared toward readers of realistic, contemporary fiction.
It was so nice to meet Raina, and to see the enthusiasm from girls and boys alike in the audience. I was especially impressed by the number of dads and daughters! Of course, I also geeked out about Raina’s other books (the graphic adaptations of The Babysitter’s Club, which were my FAVORITE books as a child) and her love for particular comic strips that I also read as a kid (For Better or For Worse and Calvin and Hobbes). All in all, I’d say it was a good day.
Interested in Raina’s books? You can start with my review of Drama from this past summer. It was the ONLY BOOK on the 2013 ALA youth media award winner list that I had read before the award announcements at ALA midwinter. You should also check out Smile, since Raina’s childhood dental dramas are incredibly relatable.
I’ve read some scholarly stuff on gender in children’s cartoon novels, but nothing on Raina’s graphic novels. Future paper topic?
Have you read any of Telgemeier’s books? Any other favorite graphic novels you want to share?
Author: David Levithan and Andrea Cremer
Release Date: 5/7/2013
Length: 358 pages
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance
Source: Review copy from publisher via Edelweiss
Challenge: Feminist Reads Challenge
Stephen was born invisible. Not even his own mother could see him, and he’s never interacted with the outside world. His father sends money, but Stephen is basically alone after his mother’s death. Until one day, unexpectedly, he is seen by his new neighbor. Elizabeth not only sees Stephen, but they become friends…and more. Of course, the fact that Elizabeth can see Stephen when no one else can brings up questions, question Stephen has never had answers for. Until now. Together, they learn of the mysterious world of cursecasters and spellseekers as they embark on the quest to cure Stephen from his curse for good.
Though it doesn’t really affect my overall feelings about Invisibility, this would be a case where I didn’t read the book blurb very well. Based on my previous experience with David Levithan (Every Day and Will Grayson, Will Grayson) and my lack of experience with Andrea Cremer, I thought this would be more contemporary romance-with-a-twist. Nope. Definitely goes in the paranormal romance category. The keywords here would be “cursecaster” and “spellseeker” in the description. Duh, Tara. Anyways, the romance in the novel happens early on and the main conflict is over how to make Stephen un-invisible (aka…visible). I wasn’t expecting that, but it ended up being okay. I was along for the ride. And I have to say, it was a pretty fun ride. I ended up really enjoying the book.
After reading the book, I did some looking into Andrea Cremer. From what I found, it appears that she is notoriously anti-feminist. Her other books must feature weak or stereotypical female characters or something. But I found that very interesting, as I was trying to decide if Invisibility is a feminist novel or not. I appreciated that Elizabeth and Stephen are equals: she’s strong, he’s strong, and both help each other. In a lot of ways, Elizabeth saves Stephen. So I found it very interesting that Cremer’s previous books have been criticized for the opposite. That being said, one criticism of the novel is that neither character felt fully “real.” They both lacked that spark that makes a good character come to life on the page. My guess is that there was just too much going on in the story, between the invisibility, the romance, the paranormal stuff, the action, the dual narration, and the back story to focus on character development.
And the ending! I wasn’t a huge fan of the ending. It wasn’t terrible, and it didn’t ruin the book, but I just…I can’t. I don’t know what to do with it. Is it just me or has it become trendy to end novels in questionable ways? Is it supposed to make us talk about the book more? Beg for a sequel? I’m not sure.
FINAL GRADE: B Overall, Invisibility was an exciting, fast-paced read. If you’d asked me at the 90% mark, I would have given it an A. It loses points for underdeveloped characters and the ending, but don’t let that deter you from giving it a go. Remember, a B is still really good! David Levithan never disappoints. It even earns the LGBT tag for having an awesome gay supporting character (Elizabeth’s brother, who plays a big part in the story…in fact, he’s the best, most developed character in the book). Fans of Levithan’s work will also be pleasantly surprised to see a direct Will Grayson, Will Grayson reference in the story, which was pretty cool.
Required Reading: Required for Levithan fans and fans of the paranormal genre. Also good for anyone looking for a quick read that’s a little different.
Library Recommendation: Appropriate for a middle or high school library. There is some scary violence (the cursecasting stuff is a little frightening) and kissing, but it’s PG-13 at the most. For parents, the main characters specifically state that they are not going to sleep together because they aren’t ready…and they don’t.
Two questions for this book: 1.) If you read the book, did you catch the Will Grayson reference? And 2.) What would you do if you were invisible for day?
Title: Almost Perfect
Author: Brian Katcher
Publisher/Year: Delacorte, 2009
Length: 368 pages/10 hours and 40 minutes
Genre: YA Contemporary
Source: Purchased from Audible/Amazon
Logan Witherspoon is a senior in small-town Missouri. He lives in a trailer with his mom, runs track, and recently had his heart broken by his cheating girlfriend. Sage is the new girl in school — tall, strangely beautiful, and mysterious. She and Logan become friends in biology class, and it quickly becomes clear that there is something more between them. But when Sage admits that she was born a boy, Logan’s feelings turn to outrage. Logan seeks to understand Sage, and himself, and they both determine if they want to be friends, lovers, or nothing at all.
Almost Perfect is a daring little book in all the best ways. While there are a lot of books out there featuring gay and lesbian teens, there are far fewer books offering positive portrayals of the transgender experience. Even within the LGBT community, transgender people can be marginalized and misunderstood. Logan moves through every emotion, and readers can empathize with his anger, curiosity, confusion, and attraction toward Sage throughout the novel. Katcher does an excellent job of avoiding an “after school special” approach to the story — while the details will answer questions readers may have, the ultimate focus is on the friendship between two well-developed, multi-dimensional characters.
I also have to note that the book is very realistic. Life isn’t perfect, and things don’t always happen like we want them to. Sage’s story is heartbreaking at times, and Logan can be kind of an idiot. People aren’t perfect, and small towns can be very close-minded places. But there are also beautiful moments and beautiful people who make it all worthwhile. Every moment is just a stepping stone to the next moment. I felt that Almost Perfect kept everything in perspective. In that sense, I think the ideal audience for the book would be teens who have not struggled with gender identity. Transgender and queer/genderqueer teens will certainly get a lot out of the story, but I believe Logan and Sage’s story can be a thoughtful stepping stone in anyone’s life path.
FINAL GRADE: B Almost Perfect is…well…almost perfect. This is a very good read, and I highly recommend it. It’s a slow book, but it does pick up more near the end. It’s definitely one of the better LGBT books I’ve read. There’s a reason it has a Stonewall Award sticker on the front!
Required Reading: Required for anyone who works with or teaches teenagers. You need to have this book in your mental bookshelf, because I guarantee you will find an opportunity to recommend it to a teenager or another adult in your life.
Library Recommendation: Since the Logan and Sage are both 18, I’d say Almost Perfect is intended for a high school audience. For parents, be aware that sex, sexual urges, teenage drinking, and violence (including a hate crime) are major points in the story. Logan is actually a really good male role model, for what it’s worth.
Title: Hex Hall
Author: Rachel Hawkins
Publisher/Year: Hyperion, 2010
Length: 336 pages
Series?: Hex Hall
Genre: YA paranormal
Source: Gift from my blogging secret santa!
After a love spell ruins prom, Sophie is sent to Prodigium juvie, aka Hecate Hall, until she turns eighteen. Sophie is to work on her powers as a witch among various faries, shapeshifters, ghosts, and other magical beings. On the first day alone she is attacked by a werewolf, finds out she’s rooming with a lesbian vampire, is recruited by a coven, and starts crushing on the hottest guy in school. Witty, sarcastic Sophie isn’t quick to to make friends, nor does she love her new school. Things get worse when students are attacked and the only suspect is her only friend. When Sophie starts learning some of Hex Halls deepest secrets, she realizes that no one is safe — especially her.
I received this book as a gift from my Secret Santa, Amanda at Letters Inside Out, to be my first post-Twilight dabble into the paranormal genre. For the record, my reading of Twilight ended in 2007 with me finishing the first novel, screaming, and throwing it across the room. Hex Hall, on the other hand, did not inspire such violent reaction. I actually enjoyed it. Sophie is a likable protagonist, the plot wasn’t entirely predictable, and there’s a boarding school. They had me at boarding school. Y’all, I freakin’ love boarding school novels. Hecate Hall felt a little bit like Hogwarts at times, so I’m guessing Hawkins was influenced by Rowlings just a smidge. At one point, Sophie even makes a joke by calling the groundskeeper Hagrid. By the end of the novel, the Harry Potter similarities fade a away, and Hex Hall stands on its own and sets its own direction.
Can I also say that I loved the very girly lesbian vampire, Jenna, too? She and Sophie are good friends to each other, and I hope Jenna gets more of the spotlight in the later books in the series. Hawkins doesn’t make a big deal over the lesbian part, so that was also nice to see in a YA novel. It’s more like, “Oh, my roommate’s a lesbian? Cool. I love her hair.” And then they move on to more important things. Like demons. And not dying. And not getting kicked out of school.
FINAL GRADE: B A light, but not too light, enjoyable read. I was expecting more fluff, but was impressed repeatedly by how much I was enjoying the novel. I’ll probably read the other books, too.
Assigned Reading: Since I don’t consider myself a paranormal fan, I’d assign this to anyone who is not a fan of the genre, as you may be pleasantly surprised! I’d also recommend it to fans of boarding school books or Harry Potter. In fact, Hex Hall might be the perfect book for the YA female reluctant readers, due to the relatively short length and general “cool” factor.
Recommendations: Librarians can feel comfortable putting the novel in a high school collection, and daring librarians (I hope you are all daring!) should consider it for middle school, too (there’s mentions of sex, and the obvious witchcraft).
How do you feel about paranormal books? Do you have a favorite in the genre?
While on my quest to read novels strictly for funsies, I also have a list of books I need to read this semester for academic reasons. If I’m looking at gender in young adult literature, I’m always reading/hearing about certain novels. They come up again and again in conversation and journal articles. Most of them appeared in articles I read for one of my papers on gender identity in young adult literature in the fall semester. I figure that I’ll need to have them all in my mental arsenal of knowledge, so I’m starting now. I’ll call this list a sort of self-directed, not-for-credit independent study that I’m embarking on for the spring.
1. Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan — Sort of a gay high school fantasty/utopia novel that challenges stereotypical masculinity.
2. I Am J by Cris Beam — The story of a female-to-male transgender teen coming of age and coming out.
3. Ash by Malinda Lo — Like a lesbian Cinderella story.
4. Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher — Logan discovers the secret of the girl he’s been dating: she’s male-to-female transgendered.
5. Luna by Julie Anne Peters — Regan watches her brother, Liam, transform to the beautiful Luna every night in their basement.
I’m sticking with five for the spring, which is about one book each month. I’m pretty sure that’s do-able. This is one of the reasons I love this blog: when I write my reviews, I’ll have a record of what I’ve read and my own summary of each. You never know when I’ll take those and put them in something publishable!
Can you recommend any interesting YA books about gender for my fall 2013 reads? The books I’ve chosen here look at transgender and non-traditional gender, but I’d also be interested in books that representing traditional gender in interesting ways!
A Tale of Two Mommies
by Vanita Oelschlager and Mike Blanc
Review copy from NetGalley
I don’t review a lot of picture books, but this one popped up on NetGalley and I had to check it out. There is a also a related book, A Tale of Two Daddies available.
What I liked: I just love a good picture book with lesbian mommies. Though I like books that have LGBT characters without making their LBGT-ness the focus, children need books that deal specifically with these issues. The child in this book is confronted by kids at the beach asking questions about what roles each mommy plays if there is no daddy. The story shows that moms do everything, including love the child and provide emotional support. The author clearly avoids pigeonholing each mommy into traditional gender roles and answers questions that kids may have about how this family is just like any other.
What I didn’t like: I felt like the rhyming quality of the text was annoying and forced. The kids ask some strange questions, and I’m pretty sure it was for the sake of making things rhyme. Kids won’t notice or care, but as adult I wasn’t impressed with the text.
Should you buy this book? If you are a lesbian couple with kids, yes. If you seek to add diversity to your children’s literature, yes. You could also just check it out from the library. There might be better books for schools and teachers to use for teaching about family diversity. But this would be an excellent resource for introducing children to families with same-sex parents.
by Alex Sanchez
Narrated by: Alston Brown
7 hours, 9 minutes
Audiobook for review from publisher
[#66 in my 75 book challenge]
You know I love some good ol’ lesbian fiction, but this week I’ve diversified. I’ve been wanting to read Rainbow Boys for some time. I guess this was the time. Remind me again why I waited so long?
Rainbow Boys is told through the alternating narration of three boys, each in different stages of coming out. Nelson is the very gay, very out kid who takes risks and doesn’t care what anyone things. Kyle knows he’s gay, but has to figure out how he’s going to tell his parents. Jason has a girlfriend, but he might also have a crush on a boy. None of the boys have ever had a serious relationship, or even a kiss. But there’s a love triangle in their midst, and that’s all about to change…
Rainbow Boys is considered a classic in YA GBLT sub-genre (yes, YA “classics” aren’t necessarily that old, especially in such a new category). The novel definitely deserves that status. Sanchez does some edgy things here. The characters are strong and real, as are the situations. The story didn’t always veer in the predictable, morality-based direction that YA contemporary novels often do. Sanchez didn’t shy away from gay sex and frank discussions of the physical AND emotional thrills, mistakes, consequences, and satisfaction that teenagers experience the first time.
About the audio book: This book worked really well in audio. The narrator essentially disappeared and I could get lost in the story — which I appreciate. He wasn’t annoying or overly theatrical, and I thought the pacing was excellent.
FINAL GRADE: B This was definitely a must read for me, and I’m glad I finally read it. I knew it was a good story when I screamed “YES!” with a fist pump during a first kiss scene, and later sat in my car in parking lot listening to a crucial romance scene. I’d recommend it to lovers of contemporary and LBGT lit, and I would put it in a high school library. There are scenes with heterosexual and homosexual sex, oral sex, sex without condoms, sex with strangers, and consensual sex — so just be forewarned (all scenes are relatively brief, and most are true-to-teenage-life awkward).
Which 10-15 year old “classics” are on your reading list? What’s kept you from getting to them?