Happy Book Lovers Day!
I spent some wonderful summers as a kid reading books with specific themes. One summer was knights and squires, another was cowboys and horses, yet another was mysteries with Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. In college, I read female authors in the summer to balance out the male-dominated required reading for courses in the winter. My last themed summer was black women writers, but that was years ago.
This year, I’m reading LGBT+ young adult novels. I’ve been exploring the nominees for the Lambda Literary Awards (Lammys) as well as the Stonewall Book Award. Some novels are from ‘best of” lists, usually tweeted by authors I followed after reading one of their books. There’s no particular order to my choices. It’s really down to what my library has available and what sounds interesting. Here’s what I’ve read so far, with my personal reaction to them. I always do my best to avoid plot spoilers.
If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
This is a good first book for people who are new to exploring what it means to be transgender. The author is a trans woman, and the story is about a trans teen at a new school, with her past told in a series of non-sequential flashbacks. I haven’t read many books set in the American South, so that was appealing. If some aspects of Amanda’s present day story seem a little too good to be true, the rawness of the flashbacks make up for it. The author’s note at the end is worth reading.
Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley
I’d read Whaley’s Where Things Come Back a few years ago, but I enjoyed this novel more. Solomon is an agorophobic teen, Lisa a go-getter who decides to ‘cure’ him, and Clark is the boyfriend caught in the middle. Solomon is gay, but that’s not really the focus of the story. It’s not unimportant, either. As I read, I kept expecting certain things to happen, but Whaley refreshingly avoids a lot of plot cliches. These are characters I enjoyed spending time with, and I was sorry when the book ended.
I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson
Artistic twins are alienated by a family tragedy. The book is told in alternating chapters, from different time points, by Noah, who is gay, and his sister Jude. I found myself exhausted by the language, which uses a lot of colorful metaphors. I think this is to convey how creative and original the twins are, but the reader does get a bit bombarded. The novel also requires patience, since there’s a lot of jumping forward and back with crucial information withheld. All will be revealed, and in the end, I did end up enjoying the book.
Girl Mans Up by M-E. Girard
Pen is a Canadian girl who looks and dresses like a boy. She’s attracted to girls and hangs out with a gang of guys. Her parents are conservative Portuguese immigrants who don’t understand their children, but she’s got an older brother who’s always on her side. I struggled a bit with this one. The characters are often unpleasant to each other. I liked the second half better, as Pen starts to assert some control over her life. Pen’s love interest never felt fully real, but that seems to be true of a lot of YA novels involving romance.
Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin
I’ve never read a book about a gender fluid teen before. I learned right away that I didn’t even know what gender fluid means. I’d been confusing it with androgyny. Garvin never reveals the gender assignment of Riley, and I was okay with that. Riley is coping with a new school, a father running for public office, an anonymous blog, and a fluctuating gender identity. I learned a lot from this one. It packs an emotional punch, and it lingered with me longer than most.
Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler
A real-life memoir about growing up gay in an evangelical Christian family. I related most to Hartzler’s theatre stories, and I’m a movie buff old enough to date the movie references without needing to look up when they were released. Hartzler shares the positive times with his family as well as the awful ones, and I’m hoping he’ll continue his story with another memoir.
George by Alex Gino
For younger readers, but with just as many emotional lows and highs. George knows she’s a girl, but nobody else does. What she wants most is to play Charlotte in the school play. I particularly enjoyed George’s interaction with her older brother. Now I need to re-read Charlotte’s Web.
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
I can always rely on David Levithan. As an older reader who experienced the AIDS crisis firsthand, I really related to the ‘chorus’ of men who narrate Two Boys Kissing. Long deceased, they watch the current generation of young gay men through the lens of their own experience. Like the angels in Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire, they feel for the boys and yearn to intervene. I loved this book.
Beast by Brie Spangler
A retelling of Beauty and the Beast, this is told in the first person by Dylan, an oversize hairy 15 year old whose rooftop “accident” gets him sent to group therapy. He meets Jamie, a beautiful girl who sees Dylan as more than just a beast. She’s shared her secret with the group, but Dylan wasn’t paying attention. Dylan is self-absorbed, and his daddy issues get in the way. I wish the book switched voices between Dylan and Jamie. I wanted to know her better.
The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich
Teenage spies are trained to be Love Interests to important people, collecting information for the top secret organization who sell it to the highest bidder. A fun premise, bogged down by some unrealistic dialogue. It’s also over-long in the middle. It will be interesting to see what the author does next, since this was a debut novel.
Spy Stuff by Matthew J. Metzger
A British YA about Anton, who starts at a new school with a big secret. He meets ginger-haired Jude, a boy anybody would fall for. I know I did. This one is sexy without being too explicit. It’s also more frank about the physical and sexual aspects of being transgender, at least compared to the other YA novels I’ve read so far. I’m definitely reading more Metzger.
The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson
Another British YA, told in alternating chapters by Leo and David. Leo is new at David’s school (yeah, it’s a common plot device) and they both have big secrets. David is drawn to Leo, although he can’t figure out why. Both characters are appealing, and it’s a good read.
Why Young Adult novels? I haven’t been a teenager for a long time. It’s not very escapist to read grown up books about grown up problems, and most YA books end with a sense of hope, of things getting better. We can all use that.