No Castles Here by A.C.E. Bauer

No Castles HereWhat I need, Augie thought, is a fairy godmother. She’d wave her magic wand, and poof, all my problems would disappear.

But nothing seemed to make his tormentors disappear.  Although Augie’s body was healing and his glasses were fixed, Dwaine, Sergio, and FoX Tooth dogged him wherever he went. His only refuge during the day was their classroom.  The class didn’t mess with Mr. Franklin.”

Augie is a scrawny kid from Camden, New Jersey.  He knows what to do: keep quiet, keep out of the way of the thugs and dealers, and try not to draw attention to himself.  It’s not fun, but it’s his life and he’s pretty good at managing.

However, it’s changing. One day he stumbles into a bookstore and accidentally (really! It was an accident!) steals a strange, perpetually-changing book of fairy tales.  Then his mom signs him up for a Big Brother-not only is he WAY too old for one, his Big Brother is gay.  Now, he likes Walter and all that, but he’s so afraid of what the bullies at school will do to him if they find out he reads fairy tales and is hanging out with a gay Big Brother.

If that wasn’t bad enough, a storm damages his school and the district makes plans to close it permanently and move all the students to other schools.  Then it would become just one more decrepit, abandoned building out of hundreds in their neighborhood.  But Augie’s tired of it-he doesn’t want to leave school and start over.  The bullies were just starting to leave him alone, and the school choir was sounding great and making everyone feel like a community.   What can be done?  He’s just a kid, but in this thoughtful debut novel, he demonstrates the power of working together.

This is a special book, friends, one with many layers and lots of things to think about after you’ve finished.  Augie’s story is interspersed with fairy tale chapters from the accidentally-stolen book, and many of his life experiences parallel those in the fairy tale.  As he reads, he begins to think about how fair is it really for him to be afraid to be seen with Walter, just because Walter is gay.  Augie feels differently, now-he sees how damaging the prejudices of others can be.  At the same time, he develops his own voice-he’s no longer the scared young man running from bullies.  Instead, Augie pulls together a plan to save his school, speaking up to the school board, and working together with the students who used to bully him.  And Walter?  Well, he likes having Walter around.  You see, things are different now.

Part fairy tale, part school drama, part coming-of-age story, this novel is one of the rare young adult stories to appeal equally to guys and girls.  I love Bauer’s treatment of Walter and his partner, and the natural way Augie’s feelings about it grew and changed.  This is one of the ALA’s Rainbow List books, specially recognized for its excellent treatment of GLBT subject matter.

Happy Reading!

Bauer, A.C.E. No Castles Here. New York: Random House, 2007. 270 pp.  Ages 11 and up.

If you liked this one, you’ll love these:

Boy 21 (one of my favorites!)

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Time for Andrew

Hero (this book is seriously double-awesome, so even if it isn’t strictly related to No Castles Here, I still think you’ll love it!)

Wildthorn by Jane Eagland

“‘I told you, that isn’t my name.  I am Louisa Cosgrove. And I’m not meant to be here.  There’s been a mistake.’

He pauses…then turns to read the page of cramped writing I can see inside the folder.

It suddenly occurs to me-perhaps they’re pretending they don’t know who I am. Perhaps they’re trying to drive me mad.

I take a deep breath. ‘I’m not mad, Doctor.  You can see that, so-‘”

There’s been a terrible mistake. Instead of being driven to a manor where she was to begin her position as a companion, Louisa is taken to Wildthorn Hall, an asylum.  They call her Lucy and interpret her every protest as further evidence of her illness.  But who had her committed? More importantly, how can she get out? Does her family really believe she belongs here? Or worse, is it possible that they do not even know where she is?

Amidst the groans and suffering of her fellow patients, Louisa recalls her outside life.  True, perhaps she read more than was considered seemly for young women, and her ambition to become a doctor was certainly unconventional.  But moral insanity? Surely having dreams of something other than a husband and family does not amount to an illness!  In order to save her life and be united with her love, Louisa stages a risky escape attempt.  But on the outside, there are many dangers for a young woman, and it seems her troubles have just begun.

I did absolutely nothing today but finish this book; I got it yesterday night.  First, it’s about time we have some good queer historical fiction! Even better, this is a queer story that doesn’t revolve around a coming out. Louisa, from her childhood on, has preferred science to sewing and riding horses to making calls.  However, she is not committed to the asylum because she is a lesbian, rather, because she exhibits unfeminine characteristics and ambitions for her time.  In this way, the book is an interesting commentary on the restrictive expectations for women in nineteenth-century England.

For those of you looking for a love story, don’t worry.  It’s there, it is sweet, and it defies the bleakness of the novel’s setting.  For a young adult book that reads like the lovechild of The Well of Loneliness and Jane Eyre, the tender romance is refreshingly hopeful, but not wildly so.  It is not so perfectly constructed that it seems unrealistic, but it is a lovely surprise!  I’ve been waiting to read this book for a long time, and I couldn’t have ordered a more perfect compilation of everything I love in a read-for-pleasure book. I haven’t been this happy since I discovered Sarah Waters. Oh, and one more awesome thing-this novel is based on a true story (Seriously. Isn’t that awful?  We should all be welling over with gratitude for our feminist predecessors, because now we don’t have to worry about being tossed in an asylum because we were inconveniently un-feminine.)

Happy Reading!

Author’s website (look, she has another book out!): http://www.janeeagland.com 

Eagland, Jane. Wildthorn. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2009. 349 pp. Ages 14 and up.

If you liked this book because of the historical setting, you might like the classics Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Older readers looking for lesbian love stories set in Victorian England will go crazy over Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters.  For a fantasy featuring girls who fall in love, try Malinda Lo’s Huntress.  Creepy gothic feel? Try A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray! And for a French medieval trilogy about assassin nuns (ok, not technically related to England or asylums or lesbians), I’ve been wanting to read Grave Mercy. It looks fantastic!

Sprout by Dale Peck

“I have a secret. And everyone knows it. But no one talks about it, at least not out in the open.  that makes it a very modern secret, like knowing your favorite celebrity has some weird eccentricity or other, or professional athletes do it for the money, or politicians don’t actually have your best interests at heart.”

Sprout’s mom died of cancer when he was twelve, and then he and his father moved from New York to the absolute middle of nowhere.  Now he’s a Kansas resident, a freak with defiantly green hair, living in a vine-covered trailer with his semi-alcoholic father-who just so happens to be dating his English teacher.  To make it even more awkward, Ms. Miller has also been coaching Sprout in the fine art of essay-writing.  She sees Sprout’s talent with words, and wants him to enter the statewide essay contest, where he might have a chance to win a scholarship.  However, there’s a catch. (There’s always a catch!) She recommends that he keep his sexual orientation secret, and not to write about it for the contest, saying that it could hurt his chances for winning.  Sprout’s not sure what he wants to do.

Then, there’s Ty, with his terrifying father who believes the end of the world is coming.  Ty’s family moved to Kansas to hide from the apocalypse and the taxmen.  Ty’s father is not someone you want to anger, so when Sprout and Ty develop feelings for each other, it is a dangerous situation indeed.  They spend the school year sneaking around, kissing in the woods and in the janitor’s closet, all the while afraid of being caught.  It’s a complicated life: full of out-in-the-open secrets, a pregnant best friend, ostriches, electric fences, and a bloodthirsty St. Bernard.

Sprout’s voice is funny and sarcastic; I think you will love the interesting words he uses.  (I learned what a nidus is!) While this book is a little less realistic than other realistic fiction novels, it is fun, creative, and engaging.  I did find the characters to be a little crowded-it was a little difficult for me to keep track of Sprout’s best friend, his former make-out partner, and the back stories of both main characters.  However, it doesn’t bog down the story, and the many eccentricities of the characters will make you smile, I think.  You know what else will make you smile?  Quotes like these: “I stared at him. We’d started out with the cave canem and ended up with the horsemen of the Apocalypse, except they were ostriches, not horsemen, and then something about plums and Methodists.”  Hilarious.

I am usually very liberal in my appraisal of young adult literature; I think it is normal and healthy to discuss issues like sex, drugs, drinking, and suicide.  However, I did take issue with the presentation of drinking and driving in the novel; it just seemed unnecessary to the plot.  It would still have been an excellent book without the inclusion of that particular scene. I would cautiously advise against using this as classroom reading; it would be well-placed in a high school or classroom library, but I imagine that it would be a fairly controversial choice for assigned reading.  That said, this is a fresh and amusing read, and it does focus on one of my favorite trends in literature: GLBTQ stories about characters who have already dealt with and accepted their own sexuality.  It also won several awards; it was a Stonewall Book Award finalist, as well as a Lambda Literary Award winner.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://dalepeck.com/

Peck, Dale. Sprout. New York: Bloomsbury, 2009. 277 pp.  Ages 16 and up.

If you liked this book, I think you would also like Getting It by Alex Sanchez, and also Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan.

 

 

Totally Joe by James Howe

“Ok, fine, I’m not a boy like them, but I’m still a boy.  The thing is, boys-by which I mean guy-guys like my brother Jeff-have always been a total mystery to me. I mean, how do they know how to do all that stuff, like throw and catch and grease car engines? Besides the fact that I don’t have a clue how to do any of those things, on a scale of 1-10, I have, like, below zero interest. Way below.  Try negative a thousand.”

Joe’s writing his alphabiography for a school assignment.  It’s a story of his life with a section for each letter of the alphabet, starting with A, for Addie, his best friend, through Z, for Zachary, the boy that might someday become his boyfriend.  His alphabiography is almost like a journal: he talks about his crushes, about his family, how it feels to be bullied.  He’s a great cook, is horrified by the thought of kissing, and favors loud Hawaiian print shirts.  He has a boyfriend, Colin, who is just not quite ready to come out of the closet yet, and there are some guy-guys who’ve been picking on him, but Joe strives to be positive.

I usually end up reading more high school level books, and this is written for the younger crowd, so it was a refreshing change.  Actually, refreshing is the perfect word for Joe, himself.  He’s optimistic, self-confident, and his indomitable spirit permeates the book.  I love his language: creative, casual, and approachable.  His character comes off as so earnest and friendly, that you want him to be real. Furthermore, James Howe has done a wonderful job handling the bullying issue without allowing the novel to be consumed by it.  The result is a light, pleasant, and encouraging read.  I think you’re going to like it!

For the record, James Howe is the author of my much-beloved Bunnicula series!

Happy reading!

Howe, James. Totally Joe. Athenum Books: New York, 2005.  189 pp. Ages 10 and up.

Publisher’s website: http://authors.simonandschuster.com/James-Howe/20539048

This is the companion book to The Misfits, so that is a great place to start if this sounds like a good book.  However, I read Totally Joe first, and it was just fine on its own!  Also, look for Addie on the Inside, coming out soon!

 

 

Down to the Bone by Mayra Lazara Dole

“I shouldn’t have come to a gay beach.  That was wacko of me.  Here I am, terrified of people thinking I’m a tortillera. I was thrown out my school and my house for loving a girl, and what do I do?  I come to a gay beach for the first time in my life.  I’m just the most brilliant kid on the block.”

Do you know how I know when to put a book on the All Time Awesome-est List?  It’s when I’m seriously let down when the book is finished, when I feel like there’s no way the next book will compare to it.  Well, here it is, friends: meet the new addition to the List: Mayra Lazara Dole’s Down to the Bone.

On the last day of eleventh grade, Laura gets caught reading a love letter in class at her Catholic school.  Worse still, the letter is from a girl, her secret girlfriend of two years.  The nuns drag her to the office, call her mom, and in the same day, she gets kicked out of both her school and her house.  Worst of all, her girlfriend gets shipped off to marry a guy! So that’s no school, no home, and no love…you’d think it would be the end of the world, but Laura works it out, with the help of a colorful (and still authentic) cast of characters

This book sparkles with enthusiasm.  Laura is sassy, funny, and passionately devoted to her friends and little brother.  (She even sneaks in to see him at his school when her mother refuses to let her visit).  During the course of the story, she has to make some difficult choices: coming out, when it might mean that her mom could never speak to her again, or just trying (like her ex-girlfriend, Marlena) to find a guy and live the straight life, because it’s too scary to lose everything.  However, even though she’s really struggling with her identity and feelings, the book doesn’t ever bog down into the “This is Just a Coming-Out Book” pit.  It’s fresh-and that’s mostly thanks to Laura’s hilarious commentary (Dole is a master with dialogue!)  and the great supporting characters.

I love it!  I love it because it features a Cuban lesbian as main character.  The food, the Miami beach culture, the Cuban influences, and the slang all make this book delicious and fun.  But I love it even more because it’s a very honest portrayal of the coming-out process.  For example, Laura tries hard to date a boy, but she ends up just feeling like she can’t get close to him emotionally, even though she doesn’t dislike kissing him.  The story lets you get close to Laura in that way, by following her thoughts, and she’s so positive and funny that you just fall in love with her!  I also like that Dole lets the readers get a little nervous:  I know that when Laura is waffling about coming out to her mom (I won’t ruin it for you, though), I was rushing through the book, because I was afraid she wouldn’t be able to do the Brave Thing.

This is an ALA Rainbow List  (a great list of GLBTQ books for young people) Starred selection, and was also nominated for the ALA Best Books list, as well as the winner of the Americas award, for its portrayal of Latinas in the United States.  Good stuff!

Happy reading!

Author’s website: http://mayraldole.wordpress.com/  (She has a blog on Goodreads, too)

What’s even better is that she has a new book coming out next year! Wooohooo!

Dole, Mayra Lazara. Down to the Bone. New York: HarperTeen, 2008. 351 pp.