Liz Miles, ed., 2011. These twenty stories, written by some of YA’s shining lights, form one of the most consistently strong anthologies I’ve ever read in any genre. The best is probably Ellen Wittlinger’s “Rules for Love and Death,” about a girl with a crush on a hot guy who dies. Her grief for what might have been rings painfully true, and the thrall in which tragedy holds teenagers hasn’t been highlighted so smartly since Heathers. Also excellent are Michael Lowenthal’s “Lost in Translation,” about a boy crushing on another boy in his Spanish class during the anti-Reagan backlash of 1981; Heidi R. Kling’s “Headgear Girl” featuring a misfit theater kid’s triumphant monologue; Cecil Castelucci’s “Orange Tootsie Pop,” which continues the nerd-victory theme when the regular-girl protag wins the cute boy at the expense of her queen-bee bestie; and Sara Wilkinson’s “Pencils,” which starts out as a slice of life seen through the eyes of an Aspergian but finishes with a chilling surprise. Also notable but more confusing is A.M. Homes’s tale of a girl who’s trapped herself in an actual closet, where she fantasizes about coming out, but she never does and it’s not quite clear where the metaphor is going.
At the bottom of the barrel is Gary Soto’s awkward vignette about a confused girl whose friend mistreats her toddler niece. The plot could have gone somewhere, but doesn’t, and the protag’s voice is forced and false. Sherry Shahan’s “Iris and Jim” is another plotless piece about two anorexic kids in a hospital, one of whom paints magazine pages with melted chocolate laxative and then, in a rather anticlimactic ending, eats them.
The good news is how gay this collection is. Fully six of the twenty stories feature queer characters, with another two or three that hint around at gay behavior and identity. That’s over a third of the stories in a book that doesn’t promise any gaiety via the title or blurb. I believe this is unprecedented, and it’s certainly noteworthy. Considering that, the quality and appeal of the stories, and the roster of award-winning authors, this one comes highly recommended.