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.

 

 

Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger

“Of course I knew.  It was the reason I was no longer comatose after an entire life of sleepwalking.  It seemed that, all of a sudden, Marisol was necessary to my existence, but of course, I didn’t mention that to her”

John’s parent’s divorced six years ago; his father left them for the high-flying bachelor life in the city.  John’s mother never touches him-not a hug, pat, or even accidentally, while passing the butter.  It has left John cold, sarcastic, and (even though he might not want to admit it) profoundly unhappy inside.

That is, until Marisol swoops into his life: a skinny, Puerto Rican lesbian, adopted by do-gooding WASPy parents.  They bond over their respective zines, which, for the uninitiated, are short, self-produced magazine publications.  They meet for coffee (which John learns to first tolerate, and then even like), and go to a concert.  The two talk for hours about feelings, parents, being different, and everything friends talk about.

However, things get complicated when John develops feelings for Marisol-those kind of feelings.  Even though Marisol is a lesbian, John falls for her, and can’t help but wishing there was more to their relationship.  The two have to navigate around their attachment, while at the same time, John is trying to renegotiate his relationship with his parents, and find who he really is.

This is a lovely, honest depiction of a growing friendship, especially when Wittlinger delves into John’s romantic attachment to Marisol.  It feels like this sort of situation happened to me at least five times when I was growing up, but it isn’t often that you see an author exploring those mixed-up love feelings.  These sections of the book really shine, and make it an award winner, I think.  She takes these miniatures of life, and examines them and works with them, and fills an entire book.  Fantastic, and not easy to do, I’d imagine.

Another great thing about the book is the references:  poetry, Ani DiFranco songs, inserts of various zines (art included), and the entire lyrics of the song that the book took its title from. It’s called Hard Love, by Bob Franke.  Here’s the Youtube link; I think you’ll like it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ejMPz5yOb0

All in all, this was a delightful book.  It reminisced on the awkwardness of the high school years, without dwelling on them.  And the relationships and characterization of John and Marisol are realistic and relatable.  I can see why it won some of the big awards: a YALSA Best Book, Lamda Literary Award, plus the prestigious Printz Honor nomination.  You don’t want to miss this one.  Even the dedication rocks:  “for everyone whose first love was a hard love.”  I can relate.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.ellenwittlinger.com

Wittlinger, Ellen. Hard Love. Simon & Schuster: New York, 1999. 224 pp.  Grades 9-11.

I know I usually recommend other books, but right now, I am still formulating my choices for this one: John reminds me so much of another character I’ve read, I just need to search my brain archives so I can tell you!