It’s not very often that I have enough down time to finish a book in only a couple of sittings — and even more rare that I finish a book and post a review the very next day — but this book was just so awesome that I couldn’t help myself! It was thought-provoking without being too preachy/in your face, told a very unique story, and had characters so well developed that I kinda wished I could jump in the story and hang out with them for a while. What was it about, though, right?
Rafe was a generally good kid, good student, and soccer player. He also happened to be gay. Luckily, because he had super-accepting parents and grew up in a very liberal city (Boulder, CO), coming out was fairly easy. His parents actually threw him a coming out party — his dad referred to it as a “cotillion” — and his mom became active with the local chapter of PFLAG (Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays). Despite the fact that he agreed to speak to students at local schools, Rafe started to get upset that his being gay was all some people saw. He decided to go away to a boarding school in New England so he could have a chance to live life as a “normal” guy. It was kinda cool, at first, to see how different life could be… but Rafe soon found out that withholding the truth — even though it’s not technically lying — can cause a lot of collateral damage.
Aaron Hartzler credits his acting ability to all the practice he got at home. After all, having questions about his faith and his sexuality weren’t exactly encouraged by his strict, Christian parents. If he wanted to stay out of trouble, he had to pretend to believe what they believed and to behave as they thought he should. As a child, he found it easy to get swept up in the excitement over the thought that Jesus might come down and take them all away to heaven at a moment’s notice. As a teen, though, Aaron had begun to enjoy his time on Earth too much to hope for the rapture. He also began to question many of the strict rules his parents upheld in the name of religion — especially the rules against listening to popular music and going to the movies. He began sneaking around and breaking rules and, what started off as smaller/more innocent lies, soon became intricately planned deceptions and full-fledged rebellion. Though I grew up attending church, my Presbyterian upbringing was very liberal and I found it fascinating [and sometimes horrifying] to see how vastly different it could have been even though his religion was based on the same holy book as mine.
As soon as I read this book, I knew I would have to save the review for Banned Books Week. It wasn’t so much because I thought people would be attempting to ban this book but because I thought the message [self-censorship] would resonate really well at this time. Though, I suppose some people would definitely be offended by several of the topics covered in this story. Either way… It’s certainly a good book to review this week.
Gossiping is practically a sport in many high schools, and Chelsea Knot could be the captain of the varsity team. Everyone knows that she can’t keep a secret, and it’s her tendency to gossip that likely keeps her in the good graces of some of her so-called friends. When she walks in on something extremely gossip-worthy at a party — one of the guys she knows was making out with another guy — she immediately heads downstairs to spill. The instant the words leave her mouth, though, she regrets having said anything. She is pretty sure he is going to get beat up and it will be all her fault. Unfortunately, her instincts were right and he ends up in the hospital on life support. To prevent wreaking any further havoc, Chelsea decides she has to take a vow of silence. I can’t say anything else without spoilers — and what I already said practically is a spoiler — so I will simply say that this was a very interesting and well-written story.
Happy Banned Books Week!
P.S. I won’t likely post a review every day this week like I normally would for Banned Books Week because I will be spending the rest of the week in Niagara Falls for the New York Library Association Annual Conference. (Sorry!)
I usually love David Levithan’s books. And I definitely started off loving this book, too. It was great to see an author who would help teens empathize with the people around them by creating a character who lived inside a different body every day and got to experience life from so many different angles. That is, until I got to the day where “A.” woke up as a fat person. I was horrified that Levithan showed so much more compassion for a heroin addict than for someone who weighed “at least 300 pounds.” I mean, I just don’t understand Levithan could insinuate that readers should be more accepting of all the complications that arose from A. living in bodies of people from different ethnicities, socioeconomic classes, and sexual orientations and then be so downright cruel in his descriptions when A. woke up in a fat body. If a person is addicted to food, which this kid Finn very well could have been, just imagine how much harder it could be for him to exist anywhere in society. A heroin addict can always go to rehab and then move away from the area where s/he is likely to run in to his/her old drug dealer and druggie friends… But a fat person can never get away from food — it’s necessary to eat if you want to live! Don’t understand how I can be so livid? Take this paragraph for instance:
When I finally take a look around and take a look inside, I’m not very excited about what I see. Finn Taylor has retreated from most of the world; his size comes from negligence and laziness, a carelessness that would be pathological if it had any meticulousness to it. While I am sure if I access deep enough I will find some well of humanity, all I can see on the surface is the emotional equivalent of a burp.
Sure, Finn could be lazy. But it’s also likely that there is *something* that caused him to “[retreat] from most of the world” and let himself go. I’m sure some people probably love this story and aren’t very upset by this chapter, but I am completely pissed at David Levithan right now.
P.S. I decided to do a quick search to see if anyone else out there had similar feelings about this book, and I was happy to find this review — http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2012/08/body-image-and-every-day-by-david.html — in which Christie Gibrich reacted with just as much indignation as me. So, yay that someone agrees with me, but boo that this is even an issue! /sigh
Since I heard last night that Rhode Island legalized gay marriage, I thought a review of a book focused on GLBTQ issues was in order this morning!
Liz was born female, but has always felt male. Being Liz in public and being Gabe inside was very difficult, but Liz started to make the transition to Gabe in 12th grade. Having an understanding best friend helped a lot, but having a family that still used female pronouns and refused to use the name “Gabe” was pretty hard. When the next door neighbor, a fellow music nut named John, found Liz a radio show on a local community radio station, it presented an excellent opportunity for Gabe to come out… But, it also meant that Liz would have to find a way to tell John about Gabe sooner rather than later.
Beautiful Music for Ugly Children was not just a radio show. It was Gabe’s chance to introduce himself to the world and to work through his feelings with music. Before long, Gabe had fans — the Ugly Children’s Brigade — who would perform random acts of crazy art in honor of his show. It gave him quite a confidence boost to know that people liked the “real” him. Unfortunately, a casual date with a member of the UCB threatened to ruin everything when the girl recognized Gabe as Liz and spread the word on the UCB fan page. I won’t ruin the ending by telling you exactly how things played out, but I am sure you can guess [based on real life] that Gabe’s life got pretty tough after that.
I loved the realistic portrayal of Liz/Gabe’s struggle, the supportive best friend, and the fantastic “soundtrack” throughout. As a former college radio DJ, I especially appreciated the authentic setting of the run-down community radio station and Gabe’s trials and tribulations while he got used to being on air. I had more than a couple of “been there, done that” moments as I read this book.
I thought this would be a good book to review on Valentine’s Day, since it had a lot to do with love. Sadly, though, it was mostly about how love was off limits for Cameron Post. Why? Because of the strict Evangelical Christian views of her family [and the majority of people in small-town Miles City, Montana]. This belief system was so apparent that, even before she truly understood what homosexuality was, Cameron knew her feelings for other girls were unacceptable to the people around her. So much, in fact, that her first reaction to hearing her parents had died in a car crash was relief. Why relief? Because her parents’ sudden death meant they would never find out she had kissed her best friend, Irene, earlier that day. Cameron tried to lie to herself and was able to pass for “normal” for a while, but she finally admitted to herself that she was a lesbian because of a friendship/fling with an out-and-proud Seattle girl she met through swim team.
While it was interesting to read about how Cameron discovered and came to grips with her sexuality, it was devastating to read about her stay at God’s Promise — a church camp that was supposed “cure” Cameron of her homosexuality. Although this story is fictional, it is based on a reality too many young people face. I look forward to a day when all people can feel free to love whomever they love, regardless of gender, but I fear this will not be for a long time yet. In the meantime, at least GLBTQ teens have stories like these to help them through the hard times they are sure to face.
Happy Reading… and Happy Valentine’s Day!
Not only does this book receive my YA Librarian Seal of Approval for including lots of factual information and providing helpful resources for the teens who need them, but it also receives the Queer Teen Seal of Approval from one of my patrons. He saw the book sitting out on my desk [as I was about to start my review] and asked if he could look at it. I decided to hold off on my review until after he and I had a chance to discuss what he thought of the book. I figured this was the perfect test, after all, because he is currently in the process of coming out to his friends and is trying to figure out when/how he will come out to his family. After about an hour, he returned and told me, “It’s awesome!” He went on to say that he liked how it was “pretty much a ‘how to’ guide for gay teens.” I smiled and said, “That’s pretty much the idea!” So, yeah… I think this book is a “must own” for all libraries that serve teens — whether you think you have queer teens or not.
Told from the alternating perspectives of two friends, Azure and Luke, this book gives readers a behind-the-scenes view of prom planning like you’ve never seen before. Not only do we get to read about all the crazy details that have to be worked out and the astounding amounts of money that are often spent on proms, but we also get to witness prom history as Azure gets permission from the principal to rework the traditional senior prom into an “alternative prom.” The “alternative prom” idea was their attempt to appeal to a greater percentage of the senior class instead of just the popular/rich kids who usually attend. From lowering the cost of attendance, to making an effort to include GLBT classmates, to offering unique activities like karaoke, the Prom Com really went all out… but some people didn’t appreciate their efforts. When some parents start to complain, Mr. Rosen [the Prom Com advisor] gets replaced, and the new advisor is less than enthused about their unique ideas. Will they be able to pull it off, or will their “alternative prom” get cancelled?
Happy Teen Read Week!