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

 

 

 

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Breathing Underwater by Alex Flinn

“I wanted to talk, wanted to tell Tom everything, things I’d never told him or anyone.  Not only about my father, but about me and Cat, that sometimes I felt so out of control with her.  But about my father too, how afraid I was of becoming like him.”

Nick is a wealthy teenager, with the cars and clothes to match, and a life that seems pretty perfect on the outside.  But now, he’s in court, slapped with a restraining order and mandatory anger management classes.  He’s there because he beat his girlfriend.  He blackened her eye and bloodied her nose.  Before that, he hurled insults, manipulated her emotions and demanded her compliance.  He made her afraid.  Now, he’s telling the story in a series of journal entries required by his anger management counselor.

It’s an all-too-common refrain: Nick learned violence at the feet of his father, who, in turn, learned it from his.  To his own grief, Nick cannot seem to control his anger, and takes it out on his lovely girlfriend, Caitlin.   The book explores his complicated emotions: he is terrified of losing her, wracked with inadequacies, hates himself for hurting her, and feels compelled to keep her close by attempting to control who she sees, what she wears, and where she goes.  On top of all that, he is trying to hide his own father’s abuse from his friends and teachers.

Oh, friends! This was a tremendously wrenching read for me! Nick’s honesty is raw, and his recounting of the abuse is brutal.  I was up at midnight last night, crying over some of the horrible things he said to poor Caitlin, and then crying even more because you can’t just write him off as a horrible person and hate him.  That’s the genius of this book:  Alex Flinn reveals Nick’s inner thoughts and motivations for his behavior. He’s multi-dimensional, rather than just abusing his girlfriend because he gets pleasure from her pain.  He’s not a straight-up monster.  That’s not how it works.  He is an abused teenager who does not know how to stop the cycle.  It’s heart-breaking.  It’s realistic.  And it is so, so painful.

This is not a long book, but the intensity of the voice was so hard for me to take that I spent a few days reading it.  This book falls into one of those categories like Laurie Halse Anderson’s books Wintergirls or Speak: they are hard to read because of the trauma and the grief they call up in the reader.  That’s powerful writing!  And because of that, Breathing Underwater won the ALA Best Books and Quick Pick awards, and about a huge list of other honors, too.  It’s not easy (emotionally) to read, but it’s worth it, and we should all be grateful there are authors willing to tackle difficult subjects from every perspective.

Alex Flinn has written a sequel, Diva, from Caitlin’s perspective.  It (and every other book she has written!) is on my to-read list.   I’ll let you know!  And if you have copies of any of them, please send them my way!

Happy Reading!

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

Flinn, Alex. Breathing Underwater. New York: HarperTeens, 2001. 279 pp.  Ages 14 and up.