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Archive for the ‘Gay/Lesbian’ Category

Becky Albertalli, the author of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, has penned a very readable second novel, The Upside of Unrequited. In my review of the first book I said, “If you’re looking for just a fun romance, try Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.” I’d pretty much have to say the same for The Upside of Unrequited.

Molly and Cassie are the twin daughters of lesbians Patty and Nadine. Cassie is cute and decidedly gay. Molly is somewhat overweight and decidedly straight. Early in the book, Cassie meets Mina and  quickly falls for her. Molly, on the other hand, has had 27 crushes but has never been kissed and never had a boyfriend. Mina and Cassie try to set Molly up with Will, Mina’s best friend but there’s no chemistry. Molly, on the other hand, likes dorky Reid, a co-worker at the store at which she has a summer job. Is this going to be crush number 28?

Albertalli tackles several issues in The Upside of Unrequited: twins growing apart when one is in a relationship and the other isn’t, the insecurities of girls whose figures don’t meet the societal norm of pretty or sexy, the legalization of gay marriage. All of this is done in an easy to read, fun story. Readers will like the characters. The situations are real. The writing is descriptive.

Any reader who likes young adult romance can’t go wrong.

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Ms. LaCour can pack a lot into three days, which is the time span of her latest novel, We Are Okay.  (By the way, it only took me two days to read, it’s that engrossing.) Mabel’s mother died when she was  young and she lived with her grandfather, each having their own bedroom and sharing the common space of the kitchen, living room and dining room. Respecting each other’s privacy, neither ventured into the inner sanctum of the other.

But one summer day after high school graduation, Gramps doesn’t answer when Marin comes home. Busy with summer fun and new girlfriend, Mabel, Marin has pretty much ignored Gramps, minimizing his failing health. Fearing the worst, Marin enters her grandfather’s bedroom, which actually consists of a sitting room and adjoining room and discovers something she never thought existed and which changed her opinion of Gramps forever.

The police are called and a shaken Marin is taken to the police station but rather than go home with Mabel’s parents (who are almost like a second set of parents) she slips out the back door and boards a bus from California to upstate New York and college with nothing but the shirt on her back, her cell phone and her debit card, even though school doesn’t start for two weeks. She ignores Mabel’s frantic texts for weeks before they dwindle into non-existence.

However, Mabel hasn’t given up and visits Marin at school for three days over Christmas break, which is where the story unfolds.

Through the action of the present and flashbacks to the previous summer, readers understand the torture that these two young women underwent, the loss of a grandparent, the loss of a friend. But it also reinforces the concept of family which is not just biological commonality. Mabel and Marin are endearing characters. You like them immediately. Their pain is understandable. The awkwardness of their reunion is palpable.

We Are Okay is both happy and sad and wonderful. And should you like it, don’t forget Everything Leads to You and Hold Still.

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Simon is being blackmailed by Martin, the class clown. It seems that Simon wasSimonVsTheHomosapiens indiscreet enough to email his virtual boyfriend, Blue, from the library computers and forgot to log out. Martin used the computers, read the emails and threatened to out Simon unless Simon extolled Martin’s virtues to Abby, Simon’s close friend. Since neither Simon nor Blue have come out, Simon feels trapped. The problem is that Abby likes Nick.

Meanwhile, all that Simon knows is that Blue goes to his school, so as he walks the halls, attends play practice, and eats lunch in the cafeteria, he’s trying to figure out who Blue is. It could be any one of a number of people, even Martin!

Throughout all of this, Simon must negotiate his junior year of high school, deal with his very strange family, and the ups and downs of friendships.

Although I read David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy ages ago, Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda brought that book into my mind. Simon lives in world with little homophobia. When Simon does come out to friends and family, it causes little ripples vs. tidal waves of emotion. It is giving nothing away to say that Simon’s and Blue’s meeting is a happy occasion…very romantic. It is the journey towards meeting and the mystery of who Blue actually is that is the fun of the book.

Becky Albertalli knows what she’s talking about with Simon. Among other jobs, she was a counselor for seven years to a support group for gender nonconforming children. Her understanding of the subject matter is evident. Her characters are fun and evoke emotions that all teenagers go through, regardless of gender identity.

It’s nice, every now and then, to read a gay/lesbian romance that merely deals with the trials and tribulations of the romance itself (which, in and of itself carries with it enough mine fields) and not necessarily the gender issues. If you’re looking for just a fun romance, try Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.

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ReturningToShoreReturning to Shore by Corinne Demas may be the sleeper book of the year, except I’m not sure if it’s the sleeper for adults or teens. While Clare’s mother, Vera, is on her honeymoon with Tertiary (Clare’s name for Vera’s third husband), Clare is sent to spend three weeks with her father, Richard, in Cape Cod. However, Clare hasn’t seen and has barely heard from him since she was three years old.

As you can imagine, Clare is dreading the visit and wishes that she could spend the three weeks either with her Aunt Eva or Peter, Vera’s second husband and a man Clare considers her father. However, it is not to be.

Since Eva doesn’t drive over bridges, Richard meets them at a service center just before the bridge onto the Cape where Eva drops Clare and heads to Maine. It is an awkward meeting for all concerned and the drive to the remote island on which Richard lives is quiet.

The first problem Clare faces is what to call Richard: Dad, Rich, Richard? What we do know is that Richard has made enough money through an internet startup that he need not work. He spends his time studying endangered turtles.

It is over the course of the following three weeks, as they start studying the turtles together,  that Clare and Richard learn about each other.

I said in the beginning that I’m not sure if Returning to Shore is a sleeper book for adults or teens. While there are many teens who have minimal contact with a parent and vice versa, I’m not sure if a teen will relate to the situation. They would certainly relate to Clare as a person. (I may be wrong on this and would love to hear other opinions.) However, I think the many fathers out there who have reconnected to their children after years of estrangement will relate wholeheartedly to Richard.

As a father who is in constant touch with my daughters, I found the story to be heart warming. I loved everything about it. It’s short (196 pages) and a fast read (one day) but it is filled with love of a parent for a child, a child for a parent and that special bond, especially between a father and a daughter.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say this will be included on my 2014 Top Ten list and highly recommend Returning to Shore as your next feel-good, put a smile on my face book. As Ms. Demas spends summers on Cape Cod, I will be looking for her books at Where the Sidewalk Ends in Chatham come next July.

 

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IfYouCouldBeMineIt boggles my mind that a country could accept (and even pay for) sex change operations yet consider homosexuality a sin. Apparently there is nothing in the Bible that says a person can’t change the gender of his/her physical body, but there is something that says having sexual relations with a person of the same sex is a mortal sin.

Sara Farizan in her debut novel, If You Could Be Mine makes this abundantly clear as seventeen year old Iranians Sahar and Nasrin are in love but must keep their feelings secret. It comes as quite a shock, especially to Sahar, when it is announced that Nasrin’s parents have promised her hand in marriage to a doctor, Reza. The wedding is in three months. Sahar cannot think of living life without Nasrin and while Nasrin says they can still see each other after the wedding, Sahar knows it can never be.

Sahar contemplates all options to cancel the wedding and claim Nasrin as her own, including undergoing the long and painful sex changes operations. She is introduced to transgenders through her cousin, Ali, who is gay. None of these people say life is easy after the changes, but at least they are in the body they should have been born into.

Sahar wonders whether her father, who has been in a depression for the several years since Sahar’s mother died, would even notice if one day she came home sporting a beard. Or would he disown her?

This is certainly a new and relevant twist on teenage sexuality. Sahar and Nasrin are two distinct personalities, one serious and determined, the other flighty and always in need of attention. So, it comes as no surprise, although in my mind it was a bit far-fetched, that Sahar should consider drastic measures to keep Nasrin. Farizan also brings up the question: would someone who loves you romantically as a woman, feel the same way if you were a man? Good question!

While, if you read this blog regularly, you know my absolute favorite books on this subject, If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan is certainly up there on the list. It is an absorbing read.

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I just finished the most tender story, Starting From Here, a debut novel by Lisa Jenn Bigelow.SstartingFromHere Not that it wasn’t topical. It was. I just enjoyed every reading moment.

Colby lost her mother to cancer a year and a half ago. When we meet her, her girlfriend, Rachel, is breaking up with her.  Colby is devastated. Her father is a long haul trucker who is rarely around, so Colby is on her own.

Van, her best friend, wants to walk along the highway collecting cans…he’s a little short on cash. As they’re walking, a dog befriends them. When they walk away, the dog stays put but Colby decides they should take the dog with them. She runs towards it and, frightened, it runs into the road in front of an oncoming car. In a panic, Colby stays with the injured dog while Van runs to get Scarlett, Colby’s truck (great name, huh?) and they take the dog to the vet. In order to save the dog, its right hind leg needs to be amputated.

Starting From Here is the tender story of the recovery of the dog, Mo, and of Colby. Unlike most books, there are no characters you dislike, even Rachel, after breaking up with Colby is likeable. Readers can visualize everything and every act that Colby makes rings true…the continuing hurt after her mother’s death, her reaction to Rachel’s break up and her reluctance to let someone else into her life, the bond she forms with Mo.

Hey, I’ll give you that the end is too happily wrapped up. But, you know what? I needed just such an ending at just such a time. Not every book has to end on a sad note or prove a painful point.

If you just want a tender, enjoyable read, Starting From Here by Lisa Jenn Bigelow is where you should start. I’m already looking forward to her next book. Hey, Lisa, don’t make me wait too long.

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I’m not one of those people who keeps track of the number of books I read. To me, it’s not a contest. And many times, by year’s end, I forget the books I read at the beginning of the year and wonder whether I’ll have to scramble to come up with 10 books. So it was a nice surprise that I had 9 books which I gave the top rating of 5 in Librarything. What was even nicer, was that there were even more 4s, so 2012 was a darn good reading year from my perspective.

Reading’s a personal thing, as you know and there are a myriad of factors that go into enjoying a book: your mood when you read it, your favorite author, impeccable wording, an engrossing plot, believable characters. These top 10 books have it all: I was in the right mood, it was my favorite author (or singer, in one instance), the plots ranged from family, to heroism, to illness and the characters were pretty much all people I would like to meet. So, here goes:

SmallDamagesAlthough the top 5 are all magnificent books, I’ll always put a Beth Kephart book on the top of the list. She’s an incredible author whose words, many times, are poetic and lyrical and she outdid herself in Small Damages about a young pregnant girl who finds out that the true meaning of family isn’t always biological. If you read one of Beth’s books, you’ll find you have to read them all.

John Green’s Fault in Our Stars takes us through the harrowing ordeal of cancer but the love and friendship and perseverence that its characters exhibit is incomparable. It might just make you shed a tear. I described it as a book of strength, of philosophy, of humor and determination. It is all of those and more.

At the end of Wonder by R. J. Palacio, Mr. Tushman, Director of Beecher Prep School, Wonderaddresses the 5th grade/6th grade classes with a quote from J. M. Barrie’s The Little White Bird: “Shall we make a new rule of life…always try to be a little kinder than is necessary.” That is the theme of this gem of a book. It is the realistic story of a boy born with a serious facial deformity, overcoming the odds by mainstreaming into the local school. Told from various points of view, once you start it, you won’t put it down.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein comes in at number 4. It is a touching story about two young girls during World War II, one a pilot and the other a spy behind enemy lines in France, if you will. Their heroism and their friendship, while to them small, is huge. It is not like any other war story you’ve read. It is captivating (no pun intended) from the beginning.

LeaveYourSleepRounding out the top 5 is Natalie Merchant’s Leave Your Sleep. A five year labor of love, Merchant put to music children’s poetry written from the late 1800s to the mid 1900s and released a wonderful CD of the same name. She then, with illustrator Barbara McClintock, published a book with some of the poetry and beautiful illustrations. I’ve heard Merchant sing these poems several times in concert and have the CD, and as she said ““Poetry speaks of so much: longing and sadness, joy and beauty, hope and disillusionment…But poetry on the page can be difficult to penetrate; sometimes it needs to be heard.” But once heard, reading it and seeing the colorful illustrations adds a whole new perspective.

Since this is getting long, I’ll briefly mention the next 5:

The Bully Book by Eric Kahn Gale: if you’re the “grunt” who gets picked on, you want to find the Bully Book and destroy it. Bullying seems to be an epidemic and Gale tries to reverse the tide in this excellent book.

Period 8 by Chris Crutcher: Crutcher seems to have found his stride again in this honest book about honesty and relationship. Not as ‘in your face’ as Whale Talk or Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes (my two favorites), it’s still up there with his best.

Stay With Me by Paul Griffin: Violence is a fact of life to some people. Some people are good and some aren’t and what happens to them doesn’t always make sense. Stay With Me had me rivited and, it indeed, did bring on a tear or two.

NoCrystalStairNo Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson: A marvelous picture book and more about Nelson’s great-uncle Lewis Michaux, a driving force for educating Blacks in Harlem. Michaux started out with nothing and built a tremendous bookstore in Harlem that attracted the likes of Malcolm X.

Almost Home by Joan Bauer: Bauer is one of the foremost writers for middle school readers and her stories are uplifting. In Almost Home Sugar Mae Cole survives her mother’s depression and a foster home by spouting the words of her grandfather, King Cole. A must read–plus the dog on the cover is adorable.AlmostHome

And the last of them are:

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

Ask the Passenger by A. S. King

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

I read so many more great books in 2012, but this is the best of the best, to me. I hope you enjoy some of them.

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