QueerYA is going on indefinite hiatus. I will let you know if anything changes.
Jenni Fagan, July 2013. In this book, the reader is thrown right into the action. Our narrator is a girl named Anais who may or may not be crazy, but does enough drugs that it’s a moot point most of the time. She’s difficult for me to understand since she uses a lot of slang and is Scottish in the first place. She is a foster child who’s been to dozens of homes before being placed in the Panopticon, an orphanage of sorts with eyes constantly watching from the central tower – or are they? Is this real, or part of Anais’s insanity, or a story she’s telling herself to make sense of her world, or an attempt to scam the reader? There’s no way to tell, meaning this is one of those books you want to start over from the beginning as soon as you finish it. Oh yes – Anais sleeps with both girls and boys, though she seems to prefer the ladies.
Very highly recommended, if you don’t mind reading it slowly and letting the slang sink in (you get used to it pretty soon).
Suzanne van Rooyen, December 2013. Treesa is a shy redhead who spends most of her time obsessing over a sci-fi TV show, including writing slash fanfic involving the male lead, Resa, and another guy of her own invention. When she meets Gabriel, who looks almost exactly like Resa, she falls for him – but she wishes she were the guy in her story and not the girl everyone else thinks she is. She wants to be with Gabriel, but she wants to do it as a boy.
In many ways, this is a classic coming-out story, except Treesa is coming out as a boy, not a lesbian. Treesa is charming and the reader will root for her, but there isn’t really enough backstory for Treesa’s trans nature to seem rooted. On the other hand, it feels fresh and new for the trans protagonist to have other issues on her mind besides gender. The book is set in South Africa, and the local slang rings true, at least to this unfamiliar reader. The foreign setting and the fanfic element make this stand out above other problem novels. Recommended.
Kristin Elizabeth Clark, October 2013. This novel in verse is told from three points of view: Brendan, the protagonist, is a straight boy who is starting to wish he were a girl. Vanessa is his girlfriend, who’s stopped hanging out with anyone but Brendan and doesn’t have a shoulder left to cry on when this news comes out. Angel works at the local LGBTQ center and meets Brendan on a bus.
This is a fairly typical problem novel with a few special features, like the verse, the triple narration, and the introduction of gender fluidity, a concept many teens might not know about. But the plot arc fits the formula; Brendan realizes he’s different, freaks out, vows not to tell anyone, explores his new world, and slowly accepts who he’s become. That said, the book is accessible and appealing, fast-paced for a character-driven novel, and mixes the familiar with the mysterious. Recommended.
James Klise, April 2014. Sophomore tennis player Saba Khan is devastated when a fire destroys her family’s West Rogers Park apartment. Saba goes to private school, and the other students and their families rally around her, offering their help to get her back on her feet. The school decides to hold an auction to benefit the Khan family, and in the process, siblings Kevin and Kendra Spoon find artwork in an alley. The art turns out to be lost works by Henry Darger, and is worth at least half a million dollars. Then it disappears. Who’s to blame?
The novel is told in documents (news articles, texts, diary entries, etc.) written by a handful of narrators: Saba, her father, her secret boyfriend, Kevin and Kendra, exchange student Javier, the school principal, and three teachers. The idea of a story told in documents isn’t new; Stephen King did it in Carrie, for example, but he really just used it to advance the chronology. In Klise’s hands, the concept rises to a whole new level. One of the narrators is unreliable (one of my favorite literary devices), and because of the document format, it’s impossible to tell. I had to go back at the end and, in astonished disbelief, find the parts that revealed the truth. I’m still not sure what exactly happened in some ways, like who set the fire; I wish this book would be published already so I could talk about it with other readers.
This was easily one of the best books I’ve read this year. I loved the mystery, so rare in YA fiction, but I also loved the individual characters, at least the ones I was supposed to love. The different points of view created tons of red herrings and characters who behave suspiciously but are innocent, or are they? in more layers than I’ve seen in teen lit. Plus, unreliable narrators! Oh, and a gay teacher. And a Chicago setting. Love.
Robin Wasserman, September 2013. In rural Oleander, Kansas, five people suddenly snap and kill someone: a family member, a friend, a stranger. In the aftermath, more and more weird violence occurs, and the town is isolated from the rest of the country. No phone, no internet, no TV, and certainly no driving in or out. What’s going on and why? We find out from five teenagers’ points of view: Cassie, who is one of the killers; super-religious Ellie; everyman Daniel, who’s responsible for his little brother; closeted football player West; and wrong-side-of-the-tracks Jule.
Unfortunately, all of the characters are boring, except possibly Jule and Ellie. I never cared about their pasts or futures. The story slogged; it sounds like it has the potential for a lot of suspense, but I couldn’t force myself to read more than a few pages a day, so it took me over a month to get through this one.
The gay content is pretty dull as well. Jock is scared to come out so has secret hookups; all the drama around the town’s violence and isolation means he discovers himself and dates another dude. Eh.
Sara Farizan, August 2013. Two Iranian teenage girls are in love, and no one can know; homosexuality is a capital offense. Nasrin and Sahar live double lives, being besties in public but secretly making out when they’re supposed to be studying. Sahar starts to freak out, though, when Nasrin’s parents announce they’ve chosen a husband for her. Nasrin seems okay with keeping up the facade and still having secret rendezvous with Sahar, but Sahar wants a more permanent solution – and then she finds one. Despite its hard line against gays, the state believes that sex change surgery is a necessary medical benefit in cases where someone’s been born into the wrong body. If Sahar can have the surgery in time, maybe she can stop the wedding and marry Nasrin herself. But as she begins to infiltrate Tehran’s small trans community, she realizes she doesn’t actually have much in common with the FTMs she meets. Nor does she have enough time to complete the psychological portions of transition, begin hormone therapy, and have the operations. And will Nasrin really call off the wedding, anyway?
I hadn’t come across this particular plot in a book before, and it was pretty interesting. It makes sense that a desperate girl in love would consider anything to be with her girlfriend, even radical surgery, though it also makes sense that this doesn’t happen in the end. I liked the minor characters, like Sahar’s flamboyant cousin and Nasrin’s fiancé, though it was too convenient that he ended up being the doctor Sahar consulted about sex reassignment. Overall, an interesting read that will keep the attention of American readers who can’t imagine the difficulties of being gay in Iran.
Malinda Lo, September 2013. In the opening scenes of this novel, set immediately after Adaptation, there’s a spaceship hovering over Reese’s San Francisco house. As you might imagine, the streets are full of people trying to get as close as they can – reporters, protesters, doomsdayers, gawkers – and this scrutiny on Reese doesn’t let up throughout the book. No matter what she’s doing, from visiting the spaceship to stopping by her locker at school, the world is watching.
This is deeply uncomfortable for Reese, who’s never sought attention and even dresses to blend in. But now she’s a celebrity – her DNA has been combined with that of the alien Imria so that she has abilities other humans don’t. It’s hard for Reese to know whom to trust; her parents, certainly, and her friends, at least most of them. But what about the U.S. government? What about CASS, the secret society that claims to have known about the Imria for decades? What about the Imria themselves, and in particular Amber, who dated Reese in the last book and then betrayed her?
I won’t say more about the plot or the ending other than this: I thought it was stupid in the last book that the aliens looked just like humans. I mean, what are the odds? That’s explained here and rather beautifully. But I do want to address the gay content. Generally I’m not afraid of spoilers on this blog, but in this case I’m going to refrain from revealing how the Amber-Reese-David love triangle ends. The author’s blog recently talked about how even major review sources are giving away the romantic ending, and I think that’s a shame, so I’m going to go against the grain here. Suffice it to say: huzzah.
Lindsay Moynihan, May 2013. Newly eighteen and a high-school dropout, Simon’s life couldn’t get a lot worse. His parents are dead; he lives with his older brother, who hates him for being gay; his twin brother, who’s unable to speak, depends on him completely; and his boyfriend has just been whisked away to anti-gay camp. But he’s made a good friend at work, Tina, and he sleeps with her, and then she takes him to visit the locked-up boyfriend. At this point, things get a little convoluted. A guy next door is selling cocaine, and the jerky older brother may or may not be involved, and then we learn the jerk’s girlfriend is pregnant, and then Simon and Tina and a lot of other grocery clerks are fired, and then all of a sudden Tina and a third, pretty cool brother move to Baton Rouge to go to school, and the twin brother is caught with 35 grams of coke in his pocket, and Simon borrows a car and moves out of town.
This book had potential at the beginning, but there’s just too much going on for any character development to feel natural. The jerk brother, for example, goes from angry and violent to hugging and sweetness without any actual reason. I wish the author had chosen to include fewer plots, maybe fewer characters, and let us get to know them and watch them grow up.
Emma Trevayne, May 2013. I loved this dystopian punk bisexual novel. Protagonist Anthem is a teenager who takes care of his twin siblings because his mom is dead and his dad’s pretty close. In their society, set in the fairly-near future in what used to be New York, the government controls the minds of the citizens using brainwashing music. They’ve managed to addict everyone to what they call tracking, and they’ve banned non-encoded music. Anthem is a vocalist for an underground band, and when the guitarist and founder dies of a tracking overdose, he’s pissed. And, of course, he plans to save the world, and then a revolution ensues with many quick reveals. It’s super-engrossing.
Anthem is bisexual without that ever being an issue. He’s in love with a girl, Haven, but he also had a relationship with his male bandmate Scope, and they still hook up on occasion. Sexuality doesn’t seem to be a divisive concept in this particular dystopia. Yay. I mean, boo for government-induced addiction, but still yay.