I’ve been thinking a lot about growing up lately. My 30’s have been entered. My mindset and lifestyle might be a figurative punk house, but I have the kind of jobs that grownups get, there’s some money in my savings account, and my hair is dyed a single color and cut relatively symmetrically. I shop from the grownups section of the thrift store and I own practical “work” shoes that had triple-digit price tags (before I got them on sale! ha!)
My late teens and early and mid-twenties were speckled with Michelle Tea’s plethora of writing and literary events around San Francisco. She was writing about lives like mine ( but in a really smart and creative way that made things like being dead broke or having mice seem a little romantic even when it was the worst), and was also cultivating this crazy extensive movement of writers in similar boats in the turbulent waters of unlikely to be published in the mainstream. I learned about so many awesome artists and writers! Thanks dude! My life is so much richer with all your work!
So I was really excited when I learned that How to Grow Up was coming out. It’s her first on a mainstream publisher, so I was really interested to see what this meant for an otherwise mostly indie and small press kind of author. I went to the book release event, bought the book, read it. Some of the chapters are ridiculously awesomely written! They are hilarious and relevant and poignant and all that. The book it “worth” the $ for those alone. My impression is that other chapters (none are bad, but some I wouldn’t consider “required reading”) might be a result of some weird thing with the publisher or the editor or something who was like “write me a whole chapter about XXXXXX” (even if there maybe needn’t be a whole chapter). Or “give me X more pages in this section!” There was also a weird inconsistency between the chapters re: how openly queer they were. It’s hard not to see everyone’s business in a small place like San Francisco, so I knew who many of her pseudonymous characters were standing in for– and Tea has the right to write a memoir however she wants to– but I had the distinct feeling that there may have been some editor action making sections seem way more hetero than they were originally intended to be– in an attempt to make the book more broadly appealing. I’m sure this happens all the time in publishing, but.
But over all, it was good! Check it out!
I found this cutie in the kids’ new books section at the library. Basically, 12 year-old Grayson was born a boy but feels like a girl on the inside. In this 243 page children’s novel, Grayson deals with various life crises, blossoms in new ways, and faces some hard truths about the world.
I’m all for children’s books that navigate the tricky paths of gender identity and difficult social situations. This one not only does so (ahem) gracefully enough, but also ends on an uplifting, hopeful note that will be desirable to its audience of 10-13 year old kids. If a queer kid (or future queer kid) happens to come upon this book, he or she will probably feel both relieved and empowered. I would have.
Just a quickie (even though I think this book deserves more) :
If you’re looking for a super-smart teen protagonist, good (both rich and witty) dialogue, and lots of feelings, check out Beau, Lee, The Bomb, and Me. Our protagonist Rylee is super-smart, but fat and an outcast at school– she ends up going on a surprise road trip to San Francisco with Beau, a bullied gay kid at her school, and Leonie, her bff (of circumstance) who’s basically the class ho with a heart of gold (and as it turns out, lots of really good qualities).
While I didn’t find the entirety of the story 100% believable, lots of the different parts are really heartfelt, interesting, and awesome. Read it. You’ll get through it in about a day, and you’ll totally be googling the author to see if there is more. check it outtttt! Or buy it. It’s on sale for under $7.
Yay! Another queer indie! Leap is pretty good. The year is 1979 and our protagonist Rowan has just finished high school in her small town and is spending her last summer before college working at the local burger joint. There’s lots of stuff going on (as there always is when you’re 18 and on the cusp of life), but the main thing is that there’s a new girl in town and Rowan’s about to get in her first relationship…
The writing is quite good– the 223 pages give you LOTS of information. There are lots of parallel side plots, the character development is good, and certain things are left unexplained in just the right way. I’ll be looking for more from this writer.
Who: Closeted teenage lesbian weightlifter/plumber/softballer Mike
What: While dealing with her dad’s death, her messed up family, and her “blossoming” sexuality, a new “big city” badgirl named Xanadu moves to town and rocks Mike’s world.
When: present day in an old-fashioned place
Where: A small town far, far away from the West Coast
A totally legit, multi-layered book. Sometimes I only believed in the characters 90%, but that might be because I’m at least 10 years older than the intended audience. But. There’s dimension and it’s well-written and things don’t all come together perfectly– and you really do get a lot in the 282 pages that you’re given.
I’m basically into whatever FLB writes. The Island Of Excess Love is the follow-up to Love in the Time of Global Warming. Pen, her little brother, the dog, Hex, Ash, and Ez, after an Odyssey of an adventure, are peacefully living in Pen’s old pink house by the sea. The little brother can make plants grow, a character from the old book makes secret deliveries to them of supplies and food, everything’s basically smooth sailing– until a massive ship sails onto their horizon.
What follows is an adventure based on Virgil’s Aeneid. While Love in the Time was more subtle about the protagonist’s Odyssean parallels, this book lays it out for the reader– it can’t be missed. There’s magic, sex, loyalty, sexiness, bewitchment, betrayal, and love. The language is in Block’s typical enchanting tone, the ending is open. It feels short at 200 pages; things happen and they are fascinating to read about– but I want even more.
Get a copy here. It’s a solid choice.
Yay, this book is great. It’s co-authored by two classic contemporary queer writers/performance artists, and just came out this year. It’s based on a live show that the two did together, yet it totally reads like a book (i.e. you won’t be plagued by the persistent feeling that maybe something’s gone wrong and this isn’t supposed to be a book). If you’ve read lots of queer and trans coming-of-age, social critique, and memoir stuff, this book covers familiar ground. Yet it’s still totally fresh in the directions that it takes you. The format it also nice– it’s a vaguely continuous series of vignettes that switches back and forth between the two authors. So Good!
The book itself is 255 pages long, and I read the entire thing in a 30 minute BART ride + a 90 minute plane flight + 20 minutes of the light rail train away from the airport in Seattle. Whoa! Super engaging! The writing ranges from factual to heartbreaking to tender, and is quite good. I don’t really want to give anything away, so just check it out! Or buy it.
Yayyy for queer comics! Pregnant Butch chronicles our butch protagonist Teek through the journey of realizing she’d like to have a kid, acquiring sperm, being pregnant, and later giving birth. Both humorous and tender, this graphic novel simultaneously critiques both the birthing industry and our society’s weirdness with gender, in whole.
I am so busy, so here is a 2fer.
Book Review: Lauren Yanofsky Hates the Holocaust BY Leanne Lieberman
I appreciate that this book plays with a topic that is so often ignored by YA lit: religion. And in particular, discomfort with religion.
Our protagonist Lauren has grown up Jewish in a pretty observant family; she had a bat mitzvah, she used to go to the Jewish youth group, and she had to beg her parents to allow her to exchange the fancy Jewish private school for the ordinary public school. Oh, and she might be questioning her belief in the religion– but that’s to the side of the main point. The main point is that the boy who she’s been flirting with plays Nazi games when he gets drunk and this really appalls her because you see, in addition to it being generally messed up, she has built up multiple layers of holocaust-related trauma. And it’s starting to seem like the entirety of her and her religion is based around the holocaust and her friends don’t understand… My description may seem clunky, but the author actually deals with it all pretty smartly.
This is a really solid book in lots of ways. It’s well-written and has surrounding friendship drama plots, coming of age stuff, imperfect relationships and choices, problematic parenting, familial imperfection.
This unusual book is quite good and it won’t take you too long to read. Check it Out!
The Secret Ingredient by Stewart Lewis
Olivia is 16 and lives with her 2 dads in LA. The family owns a fancy little restaurant that Olivia (genius cook that she is) cooks the weekly specials for. But Oh No! the bankers are coming after the family’s restaurant and house because the business hasn’t been doing so hot. Meanwhile, Olivia gets a really cool part time job, bends some legal rules to try to meet her birth-mom (she’s adopted), spends time with a boy from her past, and encounters a lovely little dose of magic. What will happen?!?!
This is a nice read that covers lots of ground and has a good amount of dimension. I wish there was more character depth and physical description of people and outfits, but that’s just me. There are some really good and detailed descriptions of the food– and I guess that’s closer to where the plot’s at anyway. I’d been missing magic, and this had a tidy little dose of it. Get a copy!
This is a quick little YA coming out/coming of age story. After the kids at his high school find out he’s gay, our protagonist Will loses his sense of place. It’s a messy little story, kind of like real life, and kind of like the author was trying to make the 142 pages as meaty as possible.
Matt begins dating an older guy online, he had strong emotions about what’s going on in the life of his BFF, he explores his feelings about the out-ness of the other gay boy at school, and he acts like a bog ol’ jerk for a lot of the book. Basically, he’s a teenage mess, which is developmentally normal.
It didn’t change my life, and it’s not too unlike a lot of other gay lit I’ve read– the but I can see how this book could be really important for some readers in need of coming-out companionship (if they were able to get past the title).
Get a copy here!