Gabi: A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

“The otgabiher problem with being me-and my Mexican ancestry-is that people don’t believe I am any kind of Mexican.  They always think I’m White, and it bugs the shit out of me.  Not because I hate White people, but because I have to go into a history lesson every time someone questions my Mexicanness.  I told Sebastian this once and he was like, “It’s not a big deal.” It may not be a big deal to him, because he is a nice Mexican brown.  Or a big deal to Sandra, who is perfectly dark-skinned.  Her Mexicanness is never questioned. Of course.  People never say racist things around them.”

Gabi’s got the typical teenage struggles: hormones, parents, friend drama.  She’s also got the drama of a father addicted to drugs, a pregnant friend, a gay friend, and on top of it all, she’s a fat girl who is navigating two different cultures: the traditional Mexican culture of her parents, and the American culture she was raised in.  But Gabi takes it all in stride-and her uncensored, often hilarious, always entertaining novel is one you won’t want to put down.

Isabel Quintero is one of those authors who tells the truth to her readers.  She addresses teenage issues respectfully, with no beating around the bush.  It may not necessarily be what adults WANT teenagers to do or think, but Ms. Quintero seems to remember the reality of being a teenager.  Gabi’s my new feminist superhero.  I think you’ll love her.

Happy reading!

If you liked this one, try these out:

The Tequila Worm

Cuba 15

Ten Things I Hate About Me

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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!)

Adaptation by Malinda Lo

Adaptation“She remembered the bird in the headlights, and she remembered waking up twenty-seven days later.  But the more she tried to focus in on that thing that had happened between those events, the more it slid away from her, slippery as an eel.”

Birds all over North America are mysteriously throwing themselves in the paths of planes, causing crashes and widespread mayhem.   No one knows why: some kind of bird plague?  Terrorism? Weather abnormalities?  No matter the cause, the results are scary: flights are grounded, people are hoarding supplies, and conspiracy theories flood the internet.

Does the government know more about the crashes than they will admit? When they crash in the Nevada desert in the middle of the night and wake up in a government facility nearly a month later, Reese and David realize there may be some truth to the conspiracy theories.  Both received medical attention, but even the doctor won’t tell what kind of treatment, and they are forbidden from telling even their parents.

Back home in San Francisco, the mysteries continue: Reese is plagued by recurrent dreams, and David is having strange symptoms.  The pair are also quite sure they are being followed, but by whom?  Who could possibly be interested in the boring lives of two SF teenagers?   In the midst of the confusion and anxiety, Reese must also sort out her feelings for a new friend, Amber.  Sure, they like each other, but does Amber know more about the bird crisis than she will admit?  Can she be trusted?

Meet Malinda Lo’s third book! Her first two, Ash and Huntress were companion fantasy novels, and were fantastic in themselves, but made even more so by Lo’s treatment of GLBT characters.  In Adaptation, she does what she does best: placing a realistic cast of characters with diverse ethnic backgrounds and sexualities in the midst of a great story. Here’s a cheer for having a super-rare bisexual character in a YA story! (And here’s what Lo herself has to say about bisexuality and young adult literature.) Lo subtly educates her readers about queerness: coming out, what terms could be hurtful, how to support a questioning friend-absolutely fantastic information that is hard to come by in the real world.  She gives us a rainbow of characters and then shows us how to treat them all with respect, all while avoiding preachiness.  Bisexual teens, gay and lesbian teens, questioning teens, all plopped in a world where it is safe to be queer.  I read her stories and am awash with gratitude.  I am so grateful for her writing stories that make queerness a non-issue, and books that help questioning teens find their way.  Seriously-it’s a desperately-needed public service, friends.   *Dusts hands, climbs off soapbox*

Aside from the diversity-awesomeness, this is a captivating thriller, full of plot twists and secrets and speculation.  She’s already working on the sequel, due this fall.  I can’t wait!

Happy Reading!

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

Lo, Malinda. Adaptation. Little, Brown: New York, 2012. 386 pp.  Ages 15 and up.

This is the part when I tell you what books you might like to read if you liked this one!  But friends, I’ve got to tell you-I’ve been hunting for at least an hour and you know what?  There aren’t too many!  Here are some that feature GLBTQ characters and fall into the speculative fiction (sci-fi and fantasy) category.

Cycler-A fantasy about a character who switches gender, featuring a bisexual boyfriend!

Vintage-a gay ghost story

The Beckoners-I have it on good report that this is a good non-coming out queer novel.

Sister Mischief-an all-girl hip hop band featuring a bisexual character! You’ll love this one!

The Water Wars-no queer content,, but plenty of excitement and conspiracy.

 

 

True Believer by Virginia Euwer Wolff

True Believer“Well, my plan from before

looks so scrimpy now.

It looked so big when I was a littler girl.

It was I was going to go to college

and get a job, get out of here

and not live with garbage and stink on my street

and nasty criminals in the neighborhood,

shooting.”

LaVaughn is fifteen years old and lives with her mother in a dangerous, dilapidated apartment complex.  Sometimes gunshots wake them in the night, and shootings happen at her school, too.  LaVaughn’s got a plan, though: she knows the only way to a safer, happier life is her education.  However, her plan is really the only non-confusing thing in her life.  Her  best friends have changed, putting all their belief into a life that LaVaughn doesn’t want for herself. Her mother is dating a new man, all these years after her father died.  Also,  LaVaughn’s handsome neighbor Jody is back again, and she needs to sort out just how she feels about it all.

This novel is written in free verse, and you won’t believe it’s written by a grown-up.  Virginia Euwer Wolff portrays the uncertainty and anxiety of being a teenager with stream-of-consciousness poetry, which reads just like you are listening to LaVaughn’s thoughts.  Even though this is the second novel of a trilogy, the story is complete on its own and you won’t have any trouble following what is going on.  Now, there are several special things about this book.  First, I am often suspicious of stories like this, about inner-city teenagers trying to succeed against seemingly-insurmountable odds.  I find that stories like this often seem to gloss over the obstacles in place, and suggest that anything can be achieved through sheer willpower.  That seems unrealistic to me, and also didactic, as though it is telling us the magical formula for success, and implying that everyone who doesn’t succeed has simply not tried hard enough.  But LaVaughn’s story isn’t like this at all; it doesn’t talk down to you or minimize the oppressive situation.  Furthermore, Wolff’s portrayal of LaVaughn’s friends is compassionate, no matter what their situation.  Also great:  Jody.  I can’t spoil anything, but Jody’s situation and the way it is treated is really outstanding, and definitely National Book Award-worthy. You’ll love this one!

Happy Reading!

Wolff, Virginia Euwer. True Believer. Simon Pulse: New York, 2001.264 pp. Ages 14-18.

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

This book is the second in the Make Lemonade trilogy, though it is perfectly okay to read it on its own.  If you want to read the first one, it’s called Make LemonadeThe third one is This Full House.  If you’d like to read other stories about young people struggling to finish school against the odds, you will probably like Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok.  Home of the Brave is another verse novel, and is about a young refugee going to school in Minnesota, so while the plot is slightly different, the format is similar.

Sister Mischief by Laura Goode

“But you have to use the love you still have for Rowie to create some things yourself.  You fell in love.  That’s brave.  Find the courage it took to do that and use it to write something that makes other people feel something.  It isn’t just about getting everyone’s attention, about shocking them and making them laugh.  It’s about giving people a reason to think about something they’ve never thought about before, something only you can make people consider.  It’s about moving people, honey.  About telling your truth.”

Meet Sister Mischief, a hip-hop group straight from Holyhill, composed of four of the baddest ladies around.  There’s Esme, MC Ferocious, a Jewish lesbian who takes care of the verses; Marcy, DJ SheStorm, the toughest straight girl on the drums; Tess, the gorgeous vocalist and former Lutheran-supergirl…and Rowie.  Rowie, the gal that Esme falls desperately in love with.  Rowie, who shatters Esme’s heart when she decides to date a nice Indian boy instead.

In the midst of the heartbreak, there is an epic struggle with school administration.  The principal has forbidden hip-hop and related clothing, and worse, refuses to allow Sister Mischief to run a queer student organization.  The girls wanted a forum (in the center of all-white, all-straight Minnesota) to discuss issues of race and gender, but meet intense administrative resistance.  When your love leaves you for someone she thinks her parents will approve of, and your school is as homogeneous as it can be, it’s hard to keep your chin up.  With the help of her friends and her super-supportive single father (he’s the one who gave the amazing pep talk I chose as a quote), Esme sets about changing the world to make room for herself and her friends.

This book is full of biting wit, stellar wordplay, and the entire roster of Who’s Who in Hip-Hop History.  Laura Goode plays with sounds and text, peppering the book with song lyrics and word combinations that beg to be read aloud.  The structure is great, too; she intersperses the book with text messages, in the form of footnotes.  While you’re reading, you’ll come to a footnote and then skip to read it at the bottom of the page.  It’s so clever; it feels exactly like you are getting these texts in real life.  You know how you’ll be reading and someone sends you a text, and you stop right away to check?  This is the book version of it, and it’s really interesting and not at all distracting.  Oh, and aside from mentioning (in a natural and not-pushy or pretentious way AT ALL) every incredible hip-hop artist in existence, there are also tons of quotes and references to queer writers and books, which is fantastic.  This book reads like a thousand arrows pointing to other awesome works, so readers will find it rich with new things to read and listen to.

Structure aside, you’ll love Esme’s vulnerable, sassy narrative and the strong bond between the girls.  Furthermore, teens will love that it takes them seriously:  this is a story that completely affirms the intensity of emotion and passion of which young people are capable. My favorite part, though, is the post-race, post-gender tone of the book.  While many people feel that being “post-race” involves never mentioning race or color, I feel differently.  I think that when we ignore race and self-consciously refuse to discuss it at all, it is 1. inauthentic and denies reality and 2. furthers the gap between cultures, as it makes us reluctant to share and learn from each other because we feel it isn’t appropriate to ask.  Race and sexual orientation are central to the text, and Goode handles it like a master; while including a diverse cast of characters, she avoids the trap of the “token lesbian/Jew/Indian/etc”.  Also, huge props to the incredibly positive feminist message!

Hip-hop fans and anyone who’s ever had a broken heart or felt out of place will love the stuffin’ out of this awesome book!

Happy reading!

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

Goode, Laura.  Sister Mischief. Candlewick: Sommerville, MA, 2011. 367 pp. Ages 15 and up.

If you liked this book for the musical and literary references AND the queer content, then Hard Love is probably perfect for you, because it has all of those elements, plus is a super-award-winner!  And, in the other direction, try Beauty Queens by Libba Bray.  It has no hip-hop, and takes place on a remote island, rather than in a high school, but is full of the same wit and sass as Sister Mischief.

Gone, Gone, Gone by Hannah Moskowitz

“He whispers, ‘Want to hear a secret?’

I nod.

‘You’re safe with me anywhere, at all times.’

It turns out, our ‘anywhere’ is the basement, and our ‘at all times’ is the entire day.  We don’t go to school.  We play checkers and make out.  My parents are upstairs watching the news.  And even though it feels like the entire world is freaking out, and even though the entire world is really just our area, and no one else anywhere gives a shit, and they definitely don’t give a shit that there are two boys making out in a basement, that’s what we are, we keep doing it, and there is something sort of beautiful about the fact that we keep doing that even now that we know it’s not what the world is about.

If I could take all the machine guns in the world and bend them into hearts, I totally totally would, even if I got grazed by bullets in the process, which knowing me I probably would, because I’m a little bit of a klutz, but Lio thinks I’m cute.”

A year after 9/11, a sniper is targeting inhabitants of the D.C. area.  Parents are keeping children home from school, and people hurry to their cars after leaving the grocery store or bank.  Everyone is uneasy, hunkered down and hoping for the threat to pass and leave loved one unharmed.  In the midst of it all, Craig and Lio find each other.  Craig’s exuberant nature and generosity help Lio forget about his dead twin, the specter of cancer that still haunts him, and his estranged mother.  Reflective, calm Lio patiently searches the entire city for Craig’s lost menagerie, a motley collection of pets that escaped during a break-in earlier in the year.  However, both boys are frightened and have suffered great losses in their past; being vulnerable is a true challenge for the pair, especially during such frightening times.

This is a story about untidy, realistic love in an unpredictable world.  In that aspect, I feel like it is an incarnation of Every Story Ever Told, and I love Hannah Moskowitz for it.  The text is full of sad-sweet details that instantly disarm the reader, such as Lio’s patchwork-dyed, multicolored hair.  Instead of maintaining such an off-putting hairstyle out of rebellion, Lio does it because he does not want to look like his twin, who died of cancer.  Craig’s big brother still lives at home, quietly working the night shift at a suicide hotline and looking after the family.  Details like that give the story depth, without feeling manipulative or precious.  As Lio and Craig negotiate their various issues against a backdrop of a world that seems to have lost all sense, a quiet optimism emerges in the text.  Yes, the book seems to say, the world is awful sometimes, and our families and loved ones aren’t always what we hope. But somehow it is going to be ok.

I loved this book for several important reasons, but the primary one is the author’s treatment of ethnicity and queerness.  This is a post-race, post-queer book, in which there is no need for coming out, and the characters’ ethnicities are mentioned only briefly and in passing.  This is not a story about an African-American character falling in love with a Caucasian character, nor a story about a gay boy who falls in love with another gay boy.  Instead, it’s just about love.  Furthermore, the book acknowledges something that adults often find uncomfortable: the  depth and intensity of feelings young people experience.  The story affords young readers dignity, validating their relationships and emotions, and I like that very much.

Oh, please read this! It’s such a beautiful and tender story. I really think you’ll like it!

Happy reading!

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

Moskowitz, Hannah. Gone, Gone, Gone. Simon Pulse: New York, 2012. 251 pp. Ages 15 and up.

You might also want to try Brooklyn, Burning, With or Without You or The Perks of Being a WallflowerThey have queer content and also the same “feel” to them!

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.

 

 

Shine by Lauren Myracle

“I closed the crawl space door.  I got to my feet and brushed myself off.  My chest was tight, but I looked at the blue sky, clear and pale above the tree line, and said out loud, ‘Fine, I’ll do it.’ I would speak for Patrick.  I’d look straight into the ugliness and find out who hurt him, and when I did, I’d yell it from the mountaintop.”

Patrick Truman was brutalized: beaten with a baseball bat, tied up, and abandoned with the nozzle of a gas pump in his mouth.  He lies unconscious in a North Carolina hospital, and police are treating his case as a hate crime, due in part to the slurs left scrawled on his chest in blood.  When it looks like the blame is going to be pinned on a drunken truckload of out-of-towners, Cat takes matters into her own hands.  She, for one, isn’t so sure; she suspects one of the local “redneck posse” is behind the crime.    Either way, she is determined to bring justice to her friend, and begins probing the town of Black Creek for its secrets.

It isn’t very often that I find a book that makes me cry on the subway, but this one certainly did it.  Lauren Myracle gives us a southern small town simmering with tension, secrets, and fierce family loyalties.  There is poverty; meth and alcoholism contribute to the futureless drifting of the town’s youth, but there are also deep wells of grace and redemption.  Furthermore, it’s a darn good mystery, something that I think is all too rare in the young adult literary world.  Better still, Myracle does not (this is not really a spoiler, I promise) just end the book with “oh, it was the drunk rednecks who did it”.  She could have, of course, but it would be doing something similar to anyone who has ever attributed the actions of an individual to that of a broader group.  In short, she doesn’t bend to prejudice.

So we have sixteen-year-old Cat, a broken, bleeding Patrick, and a mess of lies and a whole town of people who are short on hope, in the hands of a very gifted storyteller.  This is my final conference book, and I chose it because 1) It is a mystery and 2) Patrick has been out for ages, and there are those who accept and love him, and those who do not.  That’s pretty much how it goes down when a person comes out.  I have to say, this book was one of the hardest I’ve ever read, but also one of the ones that I feel needs to be read, not just by queer teens, but by everyone.

Happy Reading!  (All right, so there are parts in it that will probably make you happy, but also some parts that might make you want to throw up, but I promise, it’s worth it.)

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

Myracle, Lauren.  Shine. New York: Abrams, 2011. 359 pp.  Ages 16 and up.  (If you’re using this for a classroom, be prepared to defend this book; the language is pretty rough and there’s drug abuse, violence, and a brief instance of sexual abuse.  That said, I think it is absolutely worth the attempt.)

If you liked this book, you might want to try Sprout by Dale Peck, or The Christopher Killer by Alane Ferguson.

Also, you might have noticed I listed this book as a National Book Award finalist; and it was, for two days.  The awards committee messed up royally, offered Myracle the award, and then said they made a mistake.  She handled the fiasco with grace, and I’m including the tag as a sign of respect.

Getting It by Alex Sanchez

“‘On three conditions,’ Sal continued. ‘First…’ He held up his index finger.  ‘You tell your creep friends here not to give me shit-ever again.’

Carlos felt his throat going dry.  Didn’t Sal realize this was supposed to be a secret?

‘Second…’Sal added another finger.  ‘It’ll cost you six bucks an hour plus expenses.  Believe me, I’m letting you off cheap.  Start by bringing twenty bucks tomorrow.  And most important’-Sal flicked out a third finger-’you help start our school’s Gay-Straight Alliance.’

With the word ‘gay’ all eyes turned to Carlos. He cringed, wanting to crawl beneath the lunch table.

‘Now for your first lesson.’ Sal dabbed a finger across the corner of his own lips. ‘When you’re eating, wipe your mouth.’

Carlos is ashamed that he’s fifteen and still a virgin.  In fact, he’s never even kissed a girl.  To make matters worse, it seems like all his friends are hooking up, and he can’t even get super-hot Roxy to look at him.  What is it?  Is it his broken-out skin, or maybe his over-sized nose or undersized muscles?  While channel-surfing when he can’t sleep, he flips to a show he’s never seen before: Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, a show where gay men give a sloppy straight man a makeover.  And that’s when his master plan is born:  all he needs to do is convince Sal, a classmate that everyone says is gay, to give him a makeover so he can win Roxy’s heart.  However, Sal drives a hard bargain:  in exchange for the help, Carlos has to agree to help start the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance.  In order to do so, Carlos has to face his own prejudices and stand up for his new friend, which isn’t easy when you’re just a teenager trying to fit in.

This is my third book for the Colorado Teen Lit conference at the end of March, and it’s fantastic!  Honestly, this is the book that got me excited enough to overcome my terror about having to stand up in front of my future colleagues and speak for an hour; it’s just so exciting and has such a good message that it’s an honor to present on it.  I chose it because it, like the other conference books, isn’t focused on coming-out.  In this story, Sal is out and supported by his family and close friends, and enjoys a healthy relationship with his boyfriend.  In fact, Sal and his sweetheart are nearly the only example of a functional and loving relationship in the story.  To make matters even more awesome, this book features minority characters, like Into the Beautiful North.  I think both of them point to trends in publishing: more books about queer characters that aren’t only about coming-out, and more books featuring characters belonging to minority groups.  It feels like the literature is opening its arms to teens of all kinds, and it’s pretty beautiful.

You will love this book because it’s very real: Carlos is angry, confused, struggles with his self-esteem and identity.  His biggest worry is finding a girlfriend.  Sometimes he’s an amazing friend, and at other times, he lets his friends down.  In short, he’s written as though he were an actual teenage guy.  Adding to the book’s appeal are the other realistic characters: Carlos’ pa, who sometimes comes off as hyper-masculine and insensitive, and Carlos’ friends, who are all mainly concerned with image and hooking up with girls.  Also, in Sanchez’s world, there are gay characters, straight characters, and those who are in-between or even just not sure yet.  It seems to me like all of the different relationships in the book explore different aspects of love and identity.  Plus, it’s a fast, funny story that doesn’t get mired in cliches. I think you’re going to love it!

Alex Sanchez is a Lambda Literary award winner who has written several other well-received books, such as So Hard to Say, Rainbow Road and Boyfriends with Girlfriends.  Getting It won the Meyer’s Outstanding Book Award, 2nd place in the Latino Book awards, and actually caused a public uproar when it was removed from the New York Public Library’s summer reading list.  Patrons staged protests and succeeded in getting the book put back on the reading list.  Awesome, right?  I’m pretty sure Carlos would approve.

Happy Reading!

Sanchez, Alex. Getting It. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006. 210 pp.  Ages 15-18.

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

If you liked this book, you might want to try Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea, or Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John