Tag Archives: homosexuality

Playing Catch-Up

Tap and Gown – Diana Peterfreund

Just as promised, Amy finally stopped acting like an idiot about her kidnapping in this book.  But it took her way too long to stop acting like an idiot about her relationship with Jamie.  I did not love-love-love this the way I did the earlier books in the series, but it also didn’t make me angry like those books sometimes did.  I think I’m ready to move on from Amy, but am very happy that as I do, I have a soon-to-be-released YA book of Peterfreund’s to look forward to.  I think, like Fire below, that my passionate crush on this series did this volume in it no favors.

Fragile Eternity – Melissa Marr

I don’t think I ever recorded here the related novel in this series, Ink Exchange, which I really liked.  But I loved this one and Wicked Lovely.  The plot goes to surprising places and I didn’t even mind that the budding romance of the first book was no longer as budding or romantic (which allowed the plot to move forward and the relationship to mature).  If I ever read another modern Fairie story again it’ll just be because I’m chasing after the appeal of this one.

Fire – Kristin Cashore

I know I’m pretty much alone in liking Graceling more, but I keep reminding people that it’s only because of how much of a crush I have on that book and not because this isn’t a stronger book.  I agree that this probably is.  And it tackles the male gaze, which is one of my favorite things ever to think about.  But I love the way that Cashore writes banter and sexual tension and those were missing from this book.  So I’ll just anxiously await whatever bits of Katsa and Po I’m given in her next book.

Once was Lost – Sara Zarr

I don’t personally find faith interesting, but I find Zarr interesting enough to go along for the ride when she explores it.

Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins

I’m sad that the first book in the series lived up to my expectations but this couldn’t handle the pressure.  I didn’t hate it, or even dislike it, I just hate that I only liked it.  The spoilery text of an email I sent to a friend in white text:

But one of my biggest frustrations with Catching Fire was the pacing of her “radicalization.”  That she was intuitive enough to read intention into the timing of the gifts she was receiving in the arena, but not to understand that her pin had become a symbol of the resistance.  And that an organized resistance was clearly forming but that it took her until the end to see it.  And I didn’t buy that the resistance would trust using her without her knowledge to go well, when that clearly didn’t work out for the government the first time around.  I did like the way she adjusted to the arena, that she realized things were going on that she didn’t understand and went with it.  I just felt more manipulated by the plotting of this story than the first one.

Lips Touch: Three Times – Laini Taylor

This book had the great premise of three fairytale love/forbidden desire stories that hinge on a kiss  and ended up being so much better than I expected while not really fulfilling the promise of the hook.  Another instance where David Levithan lied to me (I’m writing this bottom-up, see the review below) but I’m happier this time to have listened to him anway.  And as much as like Jim Di Bartolo’s illustrations, I don’t like the cover design.  Because it’s a much more serious, even grown-up, book than it seems.  And yes, each story in some way revolves around a kiss and the manifestation of physical desire, but I often related more to the other wishes and dreams of the characters.  The third story is an epic love story crammed into 110 pages that improbably has you siding with the evil witch-type by the end.  I’m not entirely sure how that narrative flip was even accomplished, but it was very skillful.  The first two stories have their charms, but the last is the one that really wowed me.  I don’t know if I’ve ever bought myself a real copy of a book after having read the ARC, but in this instance I might just for the illustrations.

Shiver – Maggie Stiefvater

Ultimately, I don’t think I liked this book.  At Day of Dialog, David Levithan swore up and down that this book transcended the otherworldly creatures (werewolves in this case) genre but I don’t think it does.  I think it was just okay with hints of being something wonderful.  Maybe someone else will read this and see what I’m missing.  There’s another story of doomed love that this reminds me of, but I can’t figure out what. *UPDATE.  The Universe just handed this to me on a plate: The Time Traveler’s Wife. It’s got the same “when will he disappear..possibly forever” tension.* It is very moody and atmospheric, but I never became fully invested in it.

Ash – Malinda Lo

Other than the lesbian love story aspect of this, it’s a pretty traditionally told Cinderella story.  The Fairy Godfather is actually a tricky, non-altruistic fairy, and it’s here and with the love story, where Lo carves her own space, that the book is the most successful.

Juliet, Naked – Nick Hornby

Technically this book has no business being here, as it has zero teen appeal, but I really enjoyed it.  And will stretch and say that it explores the flip side of the “Nick and Norah” music-obsessed-teen coin.  But it’s all about being a grown up, the disapointments and compromises and joys, and how not even a rock star can escape that.  This is the first Hornby book in years that I’ve enjoyed as much as I wanted to.

Scott Pilgrim vs.the Universe – Brian Lee O’Malley

I didn’t mind that Scott’s life kind of falls apart during this volume, I guess I’m turning into a cold-hearted grown up who didn’t expect his slacker lifestyle to be sustainable.  The cover is also very shiny and pretty.

Gregor the Overlander and Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane – Suzanne Collins

I’d been interested in this series ever since reading Hunger Games, but didn’t want to read a library copy because the paperback is both cheaply printed and very popular.  So I finally bought my own copy and once I’d finished, went out and immediately bought the second, which I read in one sitting.  I think the strength of these is Gregor.  He’s really likeable and resourceful.  And if too many of the books in this roundup feature kids who are destined to save the world, having a character who doesn’t act too stupid about the whole thing helps the over-used conceit go down easier.  I’m a little bit worried, and will have to be careful not to get too spoilery, that Collins may rely to heavily on formula with her plots.  These two books both follow similar arcs and this worry of mine is related to the aspect of Catching Fire that I wasn’t too impressed by.  I really wish these were collected in one volume, something with higher quality paper, so that you could easily read the whole saga in one go.

Blackbringer (Dreamdark) – Laini Taylor

I’m upset because I thought the sequel to this was already out but will instead have to wait until September for it.  So while that’s lame, I really enjoyed the story.  I like the way it maintained internal logic really well, how the strength of the god character was used to trick it, how the evil character was as much an important part of fairy history as anyone, how it feels like a complete story while making you want more, and how it might have the first fairy world I’d actually want to live in.  It would be really easy for me to talk about appreciating this book for all of the pitfalls it avoided, but that’s not very exciting.  This books seems to have initially been marketed as middle grade but then as YA for the paperback edition.  Which is funny, because I think it’s an easy sell to adults as well.


Review: Skim

Skim – Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

Kim, nicknamed Skim “because she’s not,” is a very disaffected teenager. She’s flirting with Wicca and her female art teacher. Everything else is cause for scorn, especially her school’s overreaction to the suicide of a student’s boyfriend. Kim comes under extra scrutiny from her friends and guidance counselors, especially once she starts mooning around after her teacher.

The black and white illustrations remind me of 1960’s children’s books and they lend an otherwise self-serious story a sense of fun. You feel for Kim, but don’t pity her. She’s struggling, but not weak. It took me awhile to get into the story, but in the end, I really enjoyed it.

Review: Cycler

Cycler – Lauren McLaughlin

Taking the pain and trauma of menstrual cramps to the extreme, Jill doesn’t become bloated or moody in the days before her period, she transforms into Jack.  Jack gets four days a month, but his parents consider him an intruder and keep him more or less (more and more as the book goes on) locked in his room.  In the three years since Jack started appearing, Jill has segregated every trace of him from her life and her mind.  But Jill’s memories are all Jack knows of the world, and he deeply treasures those that include her best friend, Ramie.  Jill is obsessed with finding the perfect prom date, though eventually learns that “perfect” and “prom” aren’t as important as Tommy, even if his bisexuality challenges her self-imposed notions of femininity.  And when Jack starts sneaking out at night to romance Ramie, it leads to a dangerous game of brinksmanship with Jill’s mom.

The beginning of the book almost lost me.  There was a contrived plot about seducing Tommy using a “The Rules” type book.  Luckily that was abandoned pretty quickly.  And Jill was so relentlessly feminine and boring.  But eventually the reasons for this came under discussion and she began to change and also lose control.  Then it became a much more interesting book.  Jack’s emotions and feelings start leaking into her head, and affecting her in ways she finds disturbing.  So she is all for the increasingly harsh restrictions her Mom puts Jack under, anything to keep him away from Ramie and to keep sexual thoughts about her best friend out of her head.  And the way in which it all gets brought to a head at the end of the book is very satisfying, but then it’s over and it’ll be another year until the next comes out.  All the interesting ideas brought up about sexuality and gender will have wait until then to be tested out.  Because even if Tommy is bi, Jack isn’t.  And Ramie and Jill don’t think they are, but aren’t completely freaking out.

This book has gotten a fair amount of attention, including a review on Boing Boing.  It’ll be interesting to see if teens take to it the way adults have.  There is sex, sexy but not graphic.  More graphic are a couple of the descriptions of transition from boy to girl and back.  Recommended for 14+

Review: Band Fags

Band Fags by Frank Anthony Polito

The main character of this book, Jack, is so lovable and heartbreaking as a queer kid trying to figure himself out in high school. I was friends with this kid, and while I managed to never date the type, most of my close girl friends all dated the same handful of handsome, effeminate, “asexual” guys. Your heart breaks for him knowing that he’ll find himself in adulthood, even though he’s still not quite there yet by the end of the book. It’s Jack’s book, but it’s also the story of his friendship with Brad, who is able to more easily (but maybe also superficially) come to terms with his sexuality, and all the things in their lives that bring them close and pull them apart. The plot mostly consists of watching Jack grow from pre-teen to college boy. But by the end, I was still sad they didn’t talk more about being in marching band (the cover got my hopes up).

There were a few problems I had with the book at the very beginning, the writing style was distracting and so were all the pop culture references. But it ended up being easy to acclimate to both and accept what the author is doing by writing in the style of a boy both precocious and clueless. There are lots of exclamation points. Over the course of the book, you become completely drawn in to Jack’s mid-1980’s world and I’m sad now to be done with the book.

This is another good example of how books for teens are different than books for adults about teens. Not that there aren’t teenagers who would enjoy this book, especially gay ones brave enough to get past the title, but the story benefits from having a reader who is looking back on youth with the benefit of age. The perspective isn’t one of that kind of looking back on youthful episodes at all, but reading it with some distance adds to the weight of the story. Jack’s life is filled with friends and acquaintances and in-jokes and shared memories. He hoards those memories like only teenagers (and maybe the elderly) do. If I were to go back right now and reread my yearbooks, I wouldn’t understand or remember half of what was written about me, but at the time it grounded me and helped me figure out my place in the world. Jack is still in the middle of all that and doesn’t realize that the rest of his life, the stuff that will really matter to him, has yet to happen. True for everyone, but even more so for someone unable to admit to the world or even to himself that he’s gay. And I think Polito really captures high school hierarchies in a way that most other authors don’t. It’s not all jocks and geeks and stoners: that sometimes pretty girls date or are friends with much geekier guys. That unlikely friendships happen, that you can have a lot of friends but still get made fun of and feel unsure of your place.

I want to give this book a hug; I really loved it.

What I’m reading

I spent my Labor Day Weekend powering through Rebecca while floating around a pool in upstate New York.  I had two other books with me, not realizing how small the type was and how long it would take to read.  Now I’m reading Band Fags, another adult book with teenage protagonists.  I hope it starts being about marching band soon, though I guess it can’t be until they get to high school.  I still have pretty regular dreams where I’m back in Arizona for a high school reunion of sorts and I’m performing with the band but I’m the only one who can’t remember any of the show anymore.  So I’m looking forward to that aspect of it.  I’m also interested to see if it will have any YA appeal.

Review: The Sixth Form

The Sixth Form by Tom Dolby

Plucked out of boredom and obscurity by wealthy, popular Todd and sexy, free-spirit teacher, Hannah, Ethan is a senior and new student at a prestigous New England boarding school. An intellectual and an artist, Ethan sees in his new life all the glitter and romance that was missing at home with his dying mother in California. But both Todd and Hannah want more from him than he can give, while giving him little of their true selves. Todd, because he’s only beginning to figure it all out himself, but Hannah’s over-reliance on Ethan grows selfish and sinister. Ethan’s journey is more about learning how fundamentally unknowable everyone is than figuring out anything about himself. Which is one of the shortcomings of the book: things happen to Ethan but he never grows or changes. Neither does he get knocked down a peg or two, his artistic pretensions are heralded as amazing by everyone around him.

The language of it was hard to get into and could have used some semicolons (but word on the street recently is that they’re a feminine kind of punctuation and falling out of favor. Well, a comma is a very different thing. Use a period if you must). I was about to put it aside about 50 pages in when I finally got a hang of its rhythms, and when the story got past the first, improbable stages of Ethan’s friendships. Because it’s never really clear what his appeal is. But my biggest problem with the story was that Ethan’s fear over keeping his relationship with Hannah a secret at all costs is never shown to be false: only an affect of her manipulations. Barry Lyga’s Boy Toy did a better job with showing the consequences of teacher/student relationships. Ethan never figures it out. Some of his teachers and administrators know or suspect what’s going on, and they keep it a secret so that he doesn’t get kicked out of school and lose his Yale acceptance. Even if Ethan is 18, that doesn’t seem like the correct response. Especially when the teacher in question is known to be a bit deranged and suspected of having a history of seducing students.

Some of the ambiguity may be because this is a “literary” novel written for adults, but I think it’s also lazy storytelling. It’s a rare, older teenager who would enjoy this book. Maybe Dolby gets a bit of a pass for writing interesting gay characters and I am in the minority of readers looking to heterosexual Ethan for signs of something worthwhile. The Secret History is a better pick for someone attracted to this story for it’s elements of fish-out-of-water in a dangerous and seductive new world, Boy Toy for the pedophile teacher angle, and even Prep, which I wasn’t a huge fan of, for dorky kid bumbling through boarding school awkwardness.