Play Me, I’m Yours

PlayMeI'mYours-MadisonParker-CoverMadison Parker, April 2013.  Lucas is seventeen and knows he’s gay, but isn’t really comfortable telling anyone about it. As he inches out of the closet, he starts making good friends for the first time: fun and supportive Trish; straight and sweet Alex, who gives Lucas his first kiss; and crazy, horny Donovan, who turns out to be a creepy jerk. But Lucas’s brother Mason is embarrassed by his brother’s gaiety, and his dad isn’t that comfortable with it either. But don’t worry – by the end, Lucas has a supportive boyfriend and his family’s really come around, including Mason, now his defender.

Yes, there are flaws in this book, but Madison Parker has done something I didn’t think was possible – she’s written a contemporary coming-out problem novel that doesn’t feel dated or melodramatic. Okay, the early scene with the prank date felt a little over-the-top. But overall, the fact that Lucas comes out in a world that already has gay kids, rather than into a totally hetero universe, makes this book much more realistic than the “me against the world” variety of coming-out story. Plus the sex is hot, and graphic, if that matters to you.

Better editing might have helped here. The book is told from Lucas’s point of view, but a few random passages are told from Donovan’s or Trish’s perspectives, which takes the reader out of the story. Some of the makeout scenes are cheesy, and some dialogue doesn’t sound true to the way teens today speak. Nevertheless, this is recommended as an entertaining, yet moving, novel about coming out in today’s real world.

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Posted in 2013, gay male, high school, problem novel, queer protagonist, realistic, romance, secondary queer character, sports | Leave a comment

Over You

Amy Reed, June 2013.  Max and Sadie are spending the summer working on an organic farm in order to escape their normal lives, and because Sadie’s wanderer mom is working there too.  Well, that’s why Sadie’s going.  Max is going because Sadie is; that’s always been enough of a reason to be anywhere. She can’t imagine life without Sadie.

….until Sadie comes down with mono at the farm, and Max is on her own for a change.  It’s too sudden a turnaround to be believable that Max drops Sadie so very quickly and painlessly, but it does allow Max to branch out, make new friends, and fall in lust with dark, angry Dylan.

The rest of the plot doesn’t matter much; it’s the character study that’s fascinating here. Like Reed’s amazing first book, Beautiful, Over You is a trip into the head of a teen who’s way messed up, but not so far gone that the reader can’t relate to her.

Right, the gay part: not Sadie and Max. Actually, Max puts it best, early in the book when her first-person narration addresses second-person Sadie:

“We have always understood that our relationship comes first. There have been a fair share of romantic sides, most of them yours, but none ever lasts too long. You always stay true, rarely even sleeping with the same boy twice. Most would think of this as problematic; they do not know you’re being faithful to me. For you, there is a difference between sex and love. And what we have is love. The rest is simply entertainment.

“Perhaps it is harder for me, my attractions being more ambiguous. You can safely say boys on one side, Max on the other. The line is straight and sharp. But mine curves all around; everything is gray instead of black and white.”

I do wish Reed had taken the opportunity to employ my favorite literary device: the unreliable narrator. I did like the slight POV switch in the second part of the book, though, where Max’s narration addressed the reader instead of Sadie.  Anyway, highly recommended, especially for those who liked Reed’s earlier novels.

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Posted in 2013, Amy Reed, bisexual, queer adult, queer parent, queer protagonist, realistic | Leave a comment

Swans & Klons

Nora Olsen, May 2013.  A couple of centuries from now, men are obsolete and society is dominated by women. Rubric is sixteen and in training to become a Panna, or upper-middle-class career woman; she’s served by Klons, who aren’t human but look it; and she’s got a “schatzie” (girlfriend), Salmon Jo.  Everything is going well for Rubric until she stumbles across some evidence that Klons really are human, but are randomly separated at birth to become a servant class.  A bit of a revolution ensues as Rubric and Salmon Jo head for the Land of the Barbarous Ones (where there are Cretinous Men and, worse, pregnant women!) to save some Klons and have a romantic adventure.

The story is a little silly (but then, I feel that way about most science fiction) and resolves too quickly, but Olsen has an eye for detail.  I wanted to visit a Comfort Station and be served tea and toast, and to watch the reality show Who Shall Be My Schatzie? The gay content is front and center as there are no men, only lesbians, and no one even hints at a relationship with a man. The advantage of SF is that a world can be built in which lesbianism is the norm and there isn’t any painful coming-out process. Instead, Rubric and Salmon Jo are just people who happen to be in love. Yay.

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Posted in 2013, dystopia, gaytopia, lesbian, Nora Olsen, queer adult, queer protagonist, romance, science fiction, secondary queer character | 1 Comment

Bi-Normal

M.G. Higgins, July 2013. Brett is a sixteen-year-old football player with problems.  His mom is dead, and his little sister drives him crazy, and his hot girlfriend Jillia isn’t ready for sex.  Still, no problem Brett’s got is as bad as his secret crush on cute artist Zach. He doesn’t think he’s gay, as he still wants Jillia bad, but the crush is bad enough. To make matters worse, he and his football buddies are always bullying the gay kids, so whom is he supposed to ask for information?

This classic coming-out story rises above average due to an appealing secondary character: the bullied gay kid.  Nate isn’t just a cookie-cutter dork who runs away from the bad guys; he’s a smartass, and he won’t give up his orange backpack.  Most importantly, though, he’s willing to listen to Brett’s problems even though Brett has mistreated him quite a bit.  It didn’t really make any sense, though, for Nate to send his bi cousin over to talk to Brett in the middle of a softball game in front of all his friends.

A short, easy read. Recommended with reservations.

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Posted in 2013, bisexual, gay male, gay-bashing, high school, lesbian, M.G. Higgins, problem novel, queer adult, queer protagonist, realistic, secondary queer character, sports | Leave a comment

When Love Comes to Town

Tom Lennon, 1993 with March 2013 re-release. Irish teen Neil is a rugby player and successful with the girls, so he can’t possibly tell anyone he’s actually gay.  Instead, he puts up a good front to his friends but secretly visits a Dublin gay bar and crushes on a kid at school.  In this classic coming-out novel, which was much more common in 1993 than today, there is a happy ending for Neil as he figures out which friends and family members are truly worth having.

Making this book good instead of average is the cast of secondary characters. Neil’s sister and his female best friend are all too titillated by being friends with a real live gay dude, and it’s pretty cute. A couple of drag queens and twink types at the gay bar add humor and fun. The older man who is mildly obsessed with Neil is neither good nor evil – he stalks Neil a bit, but this ends up saving his life. Recommended with reservations.

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Posted in 1993, 2013, blast from the past, drag, european, gay male, gay-bashing, genderqueer, high school, historical, problem novel, queer adult, queer protagonist, realistic, secondary queer character, Tom Lennon | Leave a comment

Tilt

Ellen Hopkins, September 2012.  This book is primarily narrated by three teenagers, with a few other voices popping up from time to time.  Mikayla has fallen too hard for the wrong boy and now finds herself pregnant. Harley is a former good girl who’s now eager to find new friends, date, and even lose her virginity.  Shane’s little sister is dying, and he’s fallen in love with a boy who’s HIV-positive. Their stories intertwine to create a disturbing picture of teen life in suburban Nevada.

I wanted to like this book because I’m such a fan of Hopkins’s anti-censorship work, but I really didn’t.  It’s not all her fault – I don’t care for novels in verse, for no good reason other than that they don’t float my particular boat. And this did seem like the type that’s just prose with line breaks rather than actual poems. But really my main concern is that I wasn’t interested enough in these characters. After reading all 603 pages, I still was confused about who was whose cousin, etc., and I didn’t really care enough to flip back and find out.

I’d recommend this book to teens who like this sort of thing, and there are many, but I can’t really say it’s for most of the adults I know. Doesn’t matter – Hopkins has a huge audience of adoring teens, teachers, and librarians – as she should. I just don’t happen to be one of them.

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Posted in 2012, Ellen Hopkins, gay male, novel in verse, problem novel, queer protagonist, realistic, secondary queer character, sexual violence | 2 Comments

Between You & Me

Marisa Calin, August 2012.  Teenage Phyre (yeah) has a new drama teacher, and she’s infatuated. Mia is beautiful, confident, and talented, and even lets the students call her by her first name.  Phyre isn’t used to crushing on girls, but she just can’t resist the way Mia makes her feel.  Because of this, she fails to see what the reader will see early on – that her best friend, identified only as You, is falling in love with her. And then at the end they get together. It’s pretty predictable, but the screenplay format (at first annoying but I got used to it quickly) adds interest, as does the parallel story told in the play the gang puts on. Recommended.

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Posted in 2012, bisexual, gaytopia, high school, lesbian, Marisa Calin, queer protagonist, realistic, romance, secondary queer character | Leave a comment

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children

Kirstin Cronn-Mills, October 2012.  Gabe has always known he’s a boy, but his body (female) and his legal name (Elizabeth) say otherwise.  He’s finally come out to his parents and his best friend Paige, but people at school call him a lesbian and they don’t mean it as a compliment.  Even worse, he has a crush on Paige that he knows is unrequited.  Luckily, music is a solace for Gabe.  His awesome senior-citizen neighbor John is a music geek extraordinaire and has landed Gabe a DJ slot at the local radio station; Gabe calls his show Beautiful Music for Ugly Children and soon develops a following of superfans who pull pranks he suggests on the air. However, once word leaks out he’s a boy, some violent bullies start tormenting him and Paige…but when they target John, he’s hospitalized and it doesn’t look good. Plus his parents are pressuring him about college but he doesn’t want to go. And now Paige is mad at him and he doesn’t even know why.  Gabe has to resolve all these issues at once, as befits a problem novel.

Yes, it’s a predictable arc, but the journey is fascinating. This protagonist is not just a paper doll delivering a message about trans acceptance; he’s a real person with real problems and, incidentally, great taste in music. The radio aspect of the book adds a view into a world most teens haven’t experienced.  Gabe’s friendship with an older man who happens to be cooler than most of the book’s teens is refreshing. Recommended.

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Posted in 2012, gay-bashing, high school, Kirstin Cronn-Mills, problem novel, queer protagonist, realistic, trans | Leave a comment

Starting from Here

Lisa Jenn Bigelow, September 2012.  In Bigelow’s first novel, teenage Colby knows she’s gay but doesn’t want to tell her dad. Since her mom died, he’s been distant anyway, spending most of his time on the road (he’s a trucker).  But Colby is out at school and is even dating a girl…..until said girl dumps her for a BOY.

Luckily, she finds love on the side of the road – no, not like that. A stray dog named Mo adopts her, and at last Colby has someone to love. In the meantime, her fiendish BFF Van sets her up with cute lesbian writer Amelia, who’s still in the closet to her Christian parents. The two fight about who should come out when, but it’s really Colby’s fault, and she freaks out completely: dumps Amelia, quits school, stops answering the phone.

It all wraps up a little too neatly when Amelia takes Colby back, her dad decides to spend more time with her, and all her friends have open arms once again.  Still, it’s a lovely, quiet read for those who like realistic fiction and happy endings.

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Posted in 2012, bisexual, gay male, high school, lesbian, Lisa Jenn Bigelow, problem novel, queer adult, queer protagonist, realistic, romance, secondary queer character | Leave a comment

Better Nate than Ever

Tim Federle, February 2013.  Thirteen-year-old Nate lives in Jankburg, Pennsylvania, with a family he can’t relate to. He’s bullied in school for being pudgy and effeminate; his only solace is best friend Libby, who understands his Broadway dreams and helps him improve his singing and acting.  When Nate’s parents go out of town for the weekend, he seizes the chance to take the bus to Manhattan and audition for the part of Elliott in E.T.: The Musical. Country-mouse-in-the-city adventures ensue as Nate learns about panhandlers and tipping, buys clothes for two dollars, finds the biggest Applebee’s in the world, meets kids with crazy stage moms, and more – all while his family figures out he’s gone and begins a massive manhunt. Luckily Libby’s on hand to cover for him back home.

I love a book that happens all in one day, and this one didn’t disappoint. Nate’s bumbling, gee-whiz attitude combined with his good cheer and lack of ego mean his narration brings the reader along with him on his journeys. It makes sense that he wouldn’t be cast as Elliott, and the role he does land is perfect for him.  His family is just messed up enough that you feel sorry for him without having to feel horrible for him.  And the gay part is great. Nate tells us early on, “My sexuality, by the way, is off-topic and unrelated. I am a freshman at the College of Sexuality and I have undecided my major, and frankly don’t want to declare anything other than ‘Hey, jerks, I’m thirteen, leave me alone. Macaroni and cheese is still my favorite food – how would I know who I want to hook up with?'”  Because of this, the book is romance-free, appropriate for all ages.  Yet later Nate is intrigued and delighted when he sees two boys kissing in a club, and can’t believe no one’s harassing them. It’s this, more than anything, that convinces him New York is where he belongs.

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Posted in 2013, fat, gay male, gaytopia, passing mentions, queer adult, queer protagonist, realistic, secondary queer character, Tim Federle | 1 Comment