Gigi Amateau, April 2009. A Certain Strain of Peculiar features Mary Harold, a thirteen-year-old girl living with her grandmother in Wren, Alabama. This is one of those "three generations of strong Southern women" novels, with the twist that it's for middle-grade readers. By observing her grandmother (and her mother, to a lesser degree), Mary Harold learns to accept others' shortcomings and to love herself while still improving as a person. She tames a baby deer, raises a cow, and sets out to break the county record for doing the most pull-ups.
This book doesn't have any explicitly gay content. It's reviewed here because one of the drawbacks of being a loving, intense, not-ready-for-boys-yet young teenage girl is that her classmates will, and do, call her a dyke. (She may even be one; there is no first hetero love scene at the end.) The author handles this nicely; Mary Harold rejects the notion that she is gay without feeling insulted by the very idea.
I didn't love this novel personally - it's a little too preachy and has just a touch of magic realism, which I loathe - but it's a nice bridge from juvenile chapter books into YA fiction, and Mary Harold is a good role model for girls her age.
Pamela Ehrenberg, May 2009. In Ehrenberg's second YA novel, she develops the story of an arson in rural Tillmon County through the voices of eight teens. Cait is a bystander who observed a sort of confession; Aiden is born-again and out to make a point; Ben and Amelia are dating, but Ben is secretly gay and Amelia has an online flirtation with another guy; Lacey is pregnant and no one knows and she works at the hardware store where the lighter fluid was purchased; Albert is different from the other kids, probably autistic, and tries to help out where he shouldn't have; Jeremy is his twin brother and has somehow become friends with Aiden; and Rob lived in the house that's burned to the ground. The story of the arson, a hate crime directed at the new kid from New York who "started prancing and lisping around Tillmon County High School" over the winter, comes out slowly via kids' stories that don't seem to be related but eventually add up.
A story with so many voices can be repetitive or difficult to control, but Ehrenberg ably avoids these problems by sticking to a slim 171 pages and not repeating most of the action from multiple viewpoints. The book starts out just a little too slowly to make it perfect for reluctant readers, who may be drawn to it nevertheless by the red and black matchbook cover art and low page count. Recommended for all public libraries and most schools as well, although teens plotting violence can be a controversial subject.
Malinda Lo, September 2009. Twelve-year-old Ash has grown up listening to fairy tales and experiencing medical care provided by greenwitches rather than doctors, so she's surprised but not shocked when her late-night wanderings in the forest lead her to fairyland. She welcomes the escape; after her father's recent death, she's been forced to work as a housekeeper and ladies' maid for her new stepmother and two stepsisters.
Ash falls in love with a scary and elusive fairy-boy named Sidhean who is cursed to love her, and she feels herself losing control the more time she spends with him in the woods. But the same paths that lead her to fairyland also bring her to Kaisa, huntress for the king, who belongs to Ash's own world. Ash's attraction to Kaisa competes with her longing for fairyland, but she doesn't feel compelled to choose between them. Nor does she feel that one attraction is wrong, as in many coming-out tales. The twist comes when Ash, in order to meet Kaisa at a ball, must ask for Sidhean's help. In return, he asks that she become completely his, leaving her in a bind between her lovers.
The tale is set against a rich backdrop of ballgowns and class struggles, minor characters that stick with the reader (I hope there's a sequel focusing on Gwen), and the delicate balance between fairyland and real life. The love story is both vivid and subtle, and the fact that each character would survive without her partner removes this from the romance genre, although it will still appeal to readers of same. In fact, this not-romance, not-realistic, not-quite-fantasy novel will probably appeal to nearly all of your teen girls. Highly recommended. And now I'm the first and last reviewer to not mention Cinderella...oops.
David Levithan, August 2009. "It's starting to feel like I'm over at a friend's house, which isn't a bad thing for a seventh date, but is pretty discouraging for a first. But there's no way I'm going to make a move without him giving me some indication that he wants me to make a move -- which I guess is a way of me saying that he has to make the move, since indications are, in general, also moves."
That's what's going through Peter's head as he tries to figure out whether he and Jasper will hook up while watching Cabaret on their first date. Later, we hear about the experience from Jasper's point of view too; he and Peter are two of the book's three narrators, detailing how they experienced September 11, 2001, and its aftermath as residents of New York. Peter, the indie kid, is waiting for Tower Records to open so he can get the new Bob Dylan. Claire, the moral center, was at school near the towers and led her little brother on the long walk uptown away from the smoke. Jasper, the slacker college kid, slept through the whole thing.
As in the outstanding Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist and the solid Naomi and Ely's No-Kiss List, this novel is partly about the drama of older adolescents, partly a love letter to New York, and partly a celebration of music geekdom. Levithan drops references to Travis and Ryan Adams and the Magnetic Fields, and these tidbits make Peter's character the most interesting and relatable voice in the book.
Summary: Outstanding. Moving, realistic, funny, hopeful, and a page-turner. Multiple copies recommended for every library.
Megan Frazer, July 2009. Dara's family life seems pretty normal - sure, her mom is strict, but whatever - until she finds a folder of family birth certificates and realizes she has an older sister, Rachel. When she confronts her parents, they admit Rachel ran away before Dara was born and that they have no relationship with her.
Dara was crowned Little Miss Maine when she was a kid, but now she's seventeen and significantly overweight. She plans her junior autobiography project around this theme, but parts of it are taken out of context by her teacher and counselor, so her furious parents pull her out of school. Dara rebels by going off to live with Rachel on her Massachusetts dairy farm. While there, Dara finds out some family secrets (hint: the farm is historically a refuge for gay kids whose parents kick them out) and makes some new friends, including Owen (gay!) and his brother (not gay! likes Dara!).
Summarizing this plot in these few words makes it recognizable as your basic coming-of-age story, and it is - but it's extremely well done. Plot threads like the out-of-order diary pages Dara finds in a closet interweave with tales of Rachel's love life, domestic scenes of the "family" cooking dinner together, and Dara's eventual decision to enter a local beauty pageant. Such peripheral characters as silent, elderly matriarch Belinda and Dara's kindly and undersung father contribute to a novel more complex than it might seem initially. Perhaps the best detail is Dara's commitment to fashion despite her size; she and Owen are always creating spectactular outfits that would delight the members of fatshionista. Highly recommended for all public, middle and high school libraries.
Josh Kilmer-Purcell, 2008. In case the shiny silver color with hot-pink lettering doesn't give it away, this book is one big gay party. In the opening scene, fourteen-year-old Jayson is shooting his Dallas/Dynasty crossover (that'd be Dallasty), starring himself as the female lead - as good a plan as any to make out with the cute neighbor boy he's cast opposite. Jayson has never been kissed, although he's quite comfortable with his identity, having "decided that he was homosexual while watching a Phil Donahue episode on the topic eight years earlier. He'd come home early from kindergarten that day because he'd gotten a stomach ache from wondering whether his Hee Haw overalls were too outré for his peers. Jayson had been sent home from school fairly often over the years, including the first day of kindergarten when he'd become inconsolably agitated that the school wouldn't change their spelling of his name from 'Jason' to 'Jayson.' He felt very strongly that he needed the extra flair to set himself apart from the other, obviously less special Jasons in the class."
Jayson's home life is somewhat chaotic; he doesn't know who his father is, his younger brother suffers from Prader-Willi syndrome, and his mom has been married eleven times. After kicking out her latest live-in boyfriend, she announces to Jayson that his father is an old movie star, Oscar Harlande, and that Jayson will be visiting him. Tomorrow. By himself. When Jayson shows up on Oscar's doorstep, he learns that Oscar, who runs an escort service for older gay men interested in sleeping with young Broadway talent, has no idea who Jayson is. Moreover, Jayson's long-time celebrity crush just happens to be living in the house.
The plot only grows more far-fetched from there, but it contributes to the soap-operatically gay smorgasbord that is Candy Everybody Wants. Recommended especially for fans of How I Got into College, Freak Show, and other big gay carnivals of teen fiction.
Jere' M. Fishback, April 2009. Protagonist Josef is 13 in 1933 when his mother dies and he's sent to live with his uncle Ernst. Ernst is a semi-openly gay man, living with 20-year-old boy toy Rudy. Josef and Rudy become close friends, and they travel to Berlin together when Josef is offered a role in a Nazi propaganda film. Josef has known for quite a while that he's interested in boys rather than girls, and he confirms this during sexual explorations with Rudy.
Uncle Ernst is a Nazi leader, and he encourages Josef to join the Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth). Josef agrees because he likes the uniform and the camping trips. He knows that Nazis are said to hate Jews, but his own observations don't match this rumor. Still, when Josef falls in love with his Jewish friend David, he keeps his Hitlerjugend membership to himself for as long as he can...
Historical gay novels are necessarily problem novels, but this one avoids the clichés of the genre. Josef is about as comfortable as he can be with his sexuality and finds several willing partners. The love story is sweet, and the plot is action-packed. Recommended.
Peter Marino, March 2009. Pan (short for "pansy") and TJ are best friends, and she's not really in love with him - very much, anyway. Any more, anyway, now that she knows he's gay. Still, TJ relies on Pan even more than best friends normally do; she needs his help dealing with her disturbed toddler brother as well as making her feel pretty. When she starts dating Caspar, things begin to go wrong; the two boys don't get along, and she feels that Pan's abandoned her just when her life has started to improve.
The plot is a standard one, although it's executed well. The characters, however, are outstanding - nothing formula here. Caspar in particular is far more than just a typical love interest. He's a jock with depth, but it goes further than that; he's incredibly thoughtful, smart, awkward, and above all, consistent and real. Parents are often cookie-cutter figures in teen books, but in this case, both sets - Pan's and TJ's - are natural and appealing. They're in the book as characters, not as Stock Parents. Even more intriguing is Paolo, TJ's younger brother, who seems to have an emotional or behavioral disorder. This isn't diagnosed in the book, so what the reader sees is the effect such a child has on the family. The one peripheral character who does fall flat is Tammie, TJ's bitchy boss, who appears only as a foil for TJ and Pan. Still, the author has worked hard to create these characters, and his work pays off.
Highly recommended, then - if you can get the right reader to pick it up. The cover art is sadly 1990s, and the title is worse. Magic and Misery? There is no magic in the book, nor any fantastical element. I'm worried this won't get into the hands of realistic-novel readers, and the SF/F crowd that will pick it up based on the title will end up disappointed.
"'Just leave the kid alone,' Leigh said. 'And then we have no problem.' ...
"'Fine,' Oliver said. 'You can have your little faggot.'
"And Leigh laughed, all of his thoughts and fears sliding away.
"'That's the best you got?' he asked. 'You can't do any better than calling him a faggot?'
"'Oh, I'm sorry, did I insult you?' Oliver asked. 'I didn't know you were one. No offense.'
"'No one cares,' Leigh said. 'That's like the lamest insult.'
"This was not actually true, as Leigh knew. Yes, at his old school, everyone was very careful to use it as a joke and never at a kid who was suspected of being gay, but that was precisely because the word carried a power far beyond its meaning.
"But knowing that he liked girls and being big enough to knock someone out gave Leigh the rare privilege of being able to laugh when the word was turned in his direction.
"The bell rang.
"'Nice meeting you,' Leigh said, letting Millie pull him toward the building. He called over his shoulder, 'Next time I'll try not to be such a fag.' ...
"It became clear that in facting down Oliver Lexham and his gang, Leigh had become a hero of sorts. Franklin had to tell the story countless times, and in the hallways, as well as on different sports teams, people could be heard telling each other, by way of apology or excuse, Next time, I'll try not to be such a fag."
That's the only gay content in After the Moment, but it's pretty great, isn't it?
Lauren Bjorkman, October 2009. "I wish my coming out had been real so I could write about it online!" exclaims high school junior Roz after reading some stories about the newly uncloseted. Roz has a lot going on: her sister Eva, who used to be her best friend, is ignoring her....and she thinks Eva might be gay. Eva does have a boyfriend, Bryan, but he keeps flirting with Roz. Roz, in turn, flirts with Jonathan, who turns out to be actually gay. Then there's Carmen, bitchy genius and surprisingly good theatrical director, and Nico, whom no one can quite figure out. Eyeliner Andie, who describes herself as "no-sexual," rounds out the ensemble of teens putting on a production of As You Like It. The book tells the story of their complicated-to-the-point-of-farcical love lives as Roz pretends to be gay in order to find out if Eva is, and then has to figure out how to get a boyfriend despite pretending to like girls, and then has to deal with the possibility that she does indeed like girls. This is complicated by her role as Rosalind in the school play, for which she has to dress as a woman dressing like a man. Roz is not only the narrator, but the stereotypical fool who is the last one to figure out what's going on. She's always wailing, "But I don't understand!" as the other characters roll their eyes knowingly. This use of the protagonist serves both as an effective plot device and a smart parody of same.
Imagine if Paula Danziger had written a Basic Eight/Twelfth Night fanfic with help from the writers of Three's Company; that will give you an idea of the red herrings, misunderstandings, gender-bending, secret-keeping, and unreliable narration that make this book the intriguing chaos that it is. My favorite gay YA read of the year. Highly recommended.
Alyson Noël, February 2009. When sixteen-year-old Ever lost her parents, sister, and dog in a car accident, she survived, but since then she's had the ability to read people's minds just by being near them. She tries to cloud this power by wearing hoodies, listening to her iPod constantly, and avoiding touching anyone, but all of this makes her a social outcast. Her only two friends are Haven, an attention-seeking scene jumper, and Miles, constantly looking for love anywhere he can.
The rest of Ever's story, in a nutshell: she meets and falls in love with new student Damen, who is gorgeous and mysterious (he disappears a lot) and super-smart and super-strong and hardly ever eats, though he does drink an odd red liquid from vials....but he's not a vampire! NOT.A.VAMPIRE, NO SIR! No, he's...an immortal! Yes, and that is how this book distinguishes itself from the Twilight series. That, and the second book is called Blue Moon, not New Moon.
But Miles is the reason you're here, because he is the Gay Sidekick. He's not an especially complex character - he's the nice guy, in search of love or at least a date. He gets the lead in Hairspray, which is unexpected and funny. He's always texting his newest potential boyfriend. He tries to resolve the issues that arise between Ever and Haven.
I mock, but I did really enjoy the book. Recommended for all your vampire immortal-loving teens, especially the gay ones.
Hayden Thorne, 2007. Upper-class Victorian England is the perfect setting for a gay romance; opportunities abound for secret assignations, literary allusions, and parlor bitchery. Hayden Thorne takes advantage of this quite well, and often with tongue in cheek, as she explores the romantic friendship between two schoolboys.
James is from a wealthy family and is used to getting his own way in school, both socially and with the teachers. Daniel is a new boy and more middle-class; also more fearful, he seeks James's protection from bullies. Their families intertwine when Daniel's brother George becomes James's private tutor. James's sister falls in love with George, and then George dies in an accident. These events only drive James and Daniel closer together, and James dreams of a future where they can live together shamelessly. "'I'm either foolish or proud or both for choosing to disappoint everyone around me,'" he says, "'but I'd sooner lower myself in their opinion now for the sake of what's real than subject them to a lie for the rest of their lives....Can you imagine how it is when my [future] children....find out, either by accident or malice or whatnot, that their honored father was really a sodomite?'"
After a sweet romance during the boys' school days, they live together briefly in London under the fiction that Daniel is merely a houseguest. Soon, James's sister Kitty learns what is actually transpiring and asks Daniel to leave for the sake of James and the family. He does, and the two rely on the writing of elaborately constructed letters (another conceit of Victorian-era literature) until a quarrel ends their communication.
The plot deteriorates somewhat as James flees to the Continent, ostensibly to buy property but really to party in Italy, and Daniel becomes a research assistant for a series of elderly gentlemen. Both resist societal urges to marry women, and both, of course, pine after one another. Too many new characters are introduced in the second half of the book, and it's difficult for the reader to keep track of them. Suffice it to say that by the end, the two are holding hands while walking along a "muddy, desolate trail" that "was comforting and companionable in spite of their vulnerability against Nature."
Kudos to Hayden Thorne for her wickedly subtle parody of a Victorian romance; if only she'd fleshed out the endless parade of characters in the second half, the book would be more readable. As it stands, I can't recommend it for reluctant readers, but your historical romance lovers will eat it up. Sex scenes are as coy as the setting dictates, so this is a good purchase for school libraries as well as public.
Lee Bantle, May 2009. Protagonist David is mostly in the closet, but sometimes he peeks out a bit. He experiments sexually with hot jock Sean, wishing he were his boyfriend, but Sean can't come out to the rest of the track team and in fact insists he's not gay -- boysex is just more convenient. David tries hard to be straight, hooking up with his female friend Kick and masturbating to the image of Mandy Moore, and in fact he may well be bi; he touches Kick's hair and thinks, "I felt a wonderful, hopeful tingling down there where it counts, where you can't fake it, even if you really, really want to." He tries buying Playboy and is interested in breasts, but he soon puts the magazine aside in favor of Iron Man and Car and Driver.
David Inside Out follows a predictable problem-novel format, with David facing bullies' accusations that he's gay, then eventually coming to terms with his sexuality. Still, formulas work if done with flair, and this one is. It has some hilarious moments, as when David attends church with his mother and finds himself "right under a nearly naked plaster statue of Jesus on the cross....I looked up, inspecting the folds of the loin cloth, trying to imagine what was underneath. This is what I had sunk to. Checking out Jesus." Sean is a stereotypical jock in denial, but Kick and Eddie are more complicated characters and round out the book nicely. Recommended for all public libraries; school librarians should note the frequent sex scenes.
Randa Jarrar, September 2008. Feisty, smart-aleck Nidali is thirteen the year her hometown of Kuwait is invaded by Saddam Hussein. Her family -- including an abusive father, a confused but loving mother, and a little brother she mainly ignores -- moves first to Egypt and then to Texas. The war and politics are relegated to the background in this coming-of-age story in which Nidali never actually quite comes of age. When Nidali describes her home life and her frequent fights with her parents for independence, she could be any girl in an American suburb, except that Dad's rants are often anti-U.S.
It's Nidali's attitude toward her sex life that really makes her character shine. When she describes masturbation via the bathroom bidet, there is no confession in her tone (and her dismay upon moving to Texas and finding that American bathrooms lack this fixture is hilarious); when she manipulates boys into making out with her, there is no sense of shame. However, experimenting with a female friend makes her nervous. "I'll go to hell, I thought. I liked boys, I assured myself, because I did. I wanted to kiss them. But I wanted to be the first one Jiji kissed instead of some slimy toad of a guy."
Parts of A Map of Home are gross; parts are hot; parts are violent in the way you'd expect when the story takes place in wartime and features an angry, vicious father. The result is a passionate narrative by an intense and lovable character. Highly recommended for public and high school libraries.
Introducing a new feature today: Blast from the Past, in which I'll review some of the classics of gay YA literature. Isabelle Holland, 1972. Fourteen-year-old Charles is desperate to get into boarding school to escape from his dysfunctional family. He's already failed the admissions exam once, but has been given another shot. Time is short, and his only hope is to work with Mr. McLeod, a former teacher and the village recluse. McLeod lost most of his facial features in an accident, about which no one has the details.
McLeod reluctantly agrees to take on Charles as a student, and they grow quite close, with McLeod taking on more and more of a parental role throughout the summer. Sometimes the two hold hands, but when Charles wants more, McLeod quickly backs away. Something Big happens, but it's hard to tell what; the author describes it vaguely as "It was like everything -- the water, the sun, the hours, the play, the work, the whole summer -- came together. The golden cocoon had broken open and was spilling in a shower of gold. Even so, I didn't know what was happening to me until it had happened." It's unclear whether the two had sex, or maybe Charles had a dream...but in the aftermath, McLeod confesses he is gay. In the next few pages, before the book ends, McLeod leaves town, has a heart attack, and leaves all of his possessions to Charles.
The book is a weird mix of honest emotion and hazy sex. It feels quite dated, as you'd expect from a book published four years before I was born. The sexual relationship is also problematic, of course, and it's hard to imagine marketing a book to teens today that features a fourteen-year-old and an adult in a happy consensual relationship. Recommended for those interested in the history of gay YA literature, but I wouldn't suggest it to most of today's teens.
P.E. Ryan, February 2009. Protagonist Garth came out to his best (female) friend recently, and then made the mistake of telling his mom. She insisted he not tell anyone else, claiming worry over potential run-ins with violent homophobes. Enter Mike, the twin brother of Garth's deceased father. He's not gay, but is ultra-supportive, taking Garth to a gay bookstore and setting him up on a date with a cute boy. Soon, however, Mike entices Garth to help him with phony charity schemes, Mike's only source of income. The author does a good job at making sure Mike and Garth are neither heroes nor villains. There's a great deal of moral ambiguity here, but none of it revolves around sex or sexuality. Garth doesn't really have a hard time dealing with being gay; he's more worried about his mom's reaction than his own identity. Mom's abrupt turnaround at the end is not realistic, but fans of Garth will be glad to see it anyway.
Michael Thomas Ford, October 2008. Jeff wakes up to find he's in a psych ward with bandages on his wrists, but refuses to believe he belongs there. He's committed for forty-five days, but for most of it, he refuses to reveal why he hurt himself in the first place. And about halfway through, he gives in to the sexual advances of a patient named Rankin - and likes it. Jeff's psychiatrist is convinced he tried to kill himself because his best friend Allie began dating a boy named Brent. This is true, but not in quite the way the doctor had in mind. Jeff was in love with Brent, and Allie can't forgive him for not being honest with her about his sexuality.
This gripping, suspenseful book is probably not for your youngest teens, depending on their life experience; the sex scenes are appropriately graphic, as we experience them from inside Jeff's head, and suicide is, of course, a major theme. Highly recommended for readers who can handle it, and for all public libraries.
Robin Stevenson, March 2008. This 106-page novel from Orca Soundings, an imprint for high interest/low level books for teens, is packed with issues. Derek's mom has abandoned the family; his homophobic father doesn't know he's gay; he's dropped out of high school; he's gained eighty pounds in the past year and his online boyfriend doesn't know it; and he's not sure how he feels about his job as a home health aide for Aaliyah, a defensive young woman in a wheelchair. Despite this smorgasbord of problems, the story resolves neatly without being cheesy. Derek's dad turns out to have a human side (barely); his boyfriend doesn't mind that he's fat; and he learns Valuable Lessons from Aaliyah. Recommended where other Orca titles are popular as well as in outreach settings.
Brent Hartinger, February 2009. Dave, Curtis, and Victor are fifteen years old and, they feel, exempt from having to get summer jobs; unfortunately, their fathers disagree. How can the boys manage to have the awesome summer they've planned while working at the same time? This conundrum launches Project Sweet Life, their plan to make a whole summer's worth of income in one fell swoop. They start out simple: have a garage sale, selling everything they own that has a market value. When that backfires, they try to win reward money for catching a bank robber. This also doesn't go well, so they decide to find hidden treasure...and so on, throughout the summer, until they've logged more hours on these schemes than they would have at their fictional jobs lifeguarding, mowing lawns, and frying chicken.
Hartinger is known for his sensitive, funny portrayals of gay teens in Geography Club and Order of the Poison Oak, but there isn't a lot of homo action in Project Sweet Life. This is a new type of gay novel altogether, where the gay characters - Dave's uncle and his "friend" - are in the background, assisting the boys with the least illegal of their plots, and the word "gay" isn't even mentioned. That makes this a good pick for a conservative community and for middle-schoolers. Recommended for all public and school libraries.
Brian Malloy, June 2008. Malloy's last gay YA novel, The Year of Ice, was a harsh, depressing portrayal of what it was like to be gay in a rural area thirty years ago. Twelve Long Months couldn't be more different: it's contemporary and lighthearted. High school senior Molly lusts after her lab partner Mark, and is delighted when she learns they're both leaving Minnesota for New York after graduation. Molly will be attending Columbia while Mark will be painting houses with his uncle. It's only after the move that Molly discovers what he couldn't tell her in their small town: he's gay. She's not as devastated as you might think; instead, she and her friends tag along with Mark to gay clubs, and she begins dating a boy who shares her interest in physics. The characters are not vividly drawn, and the plot is slight, with coming-of-age the only real development. Recommended for large YA collections or where there is high demand for queer YA fiction.
Lisa Yee, February 2009. Yee, the author of an excellent middle-grade trilogy that recounts the same events from three different points of view, takes her first foray into YA with Absolutely Maybe. Eighteen-year-old protagonist Maybe (christened Maybelline after her mother's favorite line of makeup) flees from Florida to LA after high school partly in search of her absentee father, but mostly to escape her self-centered mother and Mom's abusive husband.
Traveling with Maybe are her friends Hollywood, an aspiring filmmaker enrolled at UCLA, and Ted, the reason this book is reviewed here. Ted, a short, funny Thai boy who's very close to his adoptive parents, quickly finds work as the personal assistant to an aging diva. Ted's presentation is rather fabulous, raising my gaydar early on, but I decided it was my imagination. After all, the book jacket and subject headings don't address homosexuality, and neither does the author's earlier work. It's not until page 272 (of 273) that Maybe and I learn the truth.
This isn't the gayest book you'll ever read, but Ted and his friends are strong, appealing characters, and the story is an intriguing one. Recommended, especially in communities where you can't buy most of what I review.
James Lecesne, February 2008. When Phoebe's cousin comes to stay with her family in the small town of Neptune, New Jersey, she's embarrassed by his flamboyance. Leonard is only thirteen, but he's pretty obviously gay, and not just gay but "different. Don't get me wrong. I like different. I am different," says Phoebe, "but when different goes too far, it stops being a statement and just becomes weird." Her cousin wears rainbow platform heels, believes in channeling the dead, creates inventive vodka drinks to soothe his aunt's stress, and makes over every female in town - except Phoebe, whom he deems his ideal.
Phoebe's worried about Neptune's reaction, but in fact, Leonard gets along with everyone except a few token adolescent homophobes. When he begins to work at her mother's beauty salon, he befriends her middle-aged clients and even reads to a lady whose eyes are failing. He arranges a reunion between his aunt and her ex-husband and befriends the theater kids after an amazing audition as Ariel in The Tempest. When he disappears, then, the town rallies to look for him, but not for long, as other local events gradually take precedence over the search for a boy they knew briefly and who probably ran away.
Phoebe can't forget Leonard, though. After he's gone, she learns that he considered her his best friend, and her guilt and love drive her to continue the search. Even after Leonard's body is found, Phoebe doesn't give up until she's satisfied with her knowledge of his relationships and his ultimate good nature.
The book goes on a little too long at 472 pages; a few characters, such as Deirdre and Larry, could have been sacrificed to make the length more manageable. The sainthood of Leonard is a little overboard as well. Still, the story is a sweet one of a teen girl learning to judge people on their merits instead of their reputations. Recommended.
Brian Sloan, February 2008. I'm a sucker for books and movies that happen all in one night; Dazed and Confused and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist come to mind. Screenwriter Sloan's first novel is in the same vein: high school kids party like there's no tomorrow, which, you know, there isn't, in the book at least. In A Really Nice Prom Mess, Cameron can't go to prom with Shane, his closeted jock boyfriend, so they double with a pair of girls: their best friend Jane and smoking hot, falling-down-drunk Virginia. Cameron's night gets progressively more bizarre as he meets porn stars and drug dealers; makes out with a stripper and his boyfriend's date; breaks into a house; dances onstage; and in the end, befriends a cop who looks oddly familiar.
No one's ever been to a prom like this; the story is intended as a farce, not a realistic night in the life of a high school senior. It's tons of fun. Give it to your readers who enjoyed Fat Hoochie Prom Queen
Leanne Lieberman, October 2008. This is not the average teen novel in which the author strives to make the characters as accessible as possible; nor does Lieberman create a fantasy-novel sense of otherworldly place. The author's debut novel is heavy with the language and rites of Orthodox Judaism, even including a five-page glossary of Yiddish terms in the back of the book. Narrator Ellie Gold, a devoutly religious high school sophomore, keeps kosher, blesses every meal, and won't turn on a light switch on the Sabbath. She wears skirts below the knee and beige full-coverage bras because she wants to, as opposed to her sister Neshama, who resents that their father requires this type of clothing.
The book begins with the family splitting up for the summer. While Ellie's parents go to Israel and Neshama is off to summer camp, Ellie spends the summer with her ex-Jewish grandmother Bubbie, still keeping kosher but getting more comfortable in a two-piece bathing suit. It's at Bubbie's cabin that Ellie meets Lindsay, the kind of girl she has never gotten to know at her religious school: flirty, saucy, wearing a string bikini and willing to whip it off for skinny-dipping in the lake. The two girls start flirting, and this is where we see the complexity of Ellie's character: she's sweetly dorky when she gets nervous and ends up babbling about biology. Lindsay is less complicated, bragging about the boys she's kissed. The girls rekindle their friendship back in the city, and begin a sexual relationship that feels wrong to Ellie for more reasons than her Judaism; she suspects that Lindsay is just using her, whereas for Ellie, this is everything. The sex scenes are short but hot; the subplot about Mrs. Gold's breakdown is curiously feminist without being obvious; and the contrast between the sisters is appealing. Recommended.
Mark Hardy, November 2008. In 1970s rural Virginia, Vincent knows he's gay but can't tell anyone, let alone his preacher father and even holier mother. He resorts to stealing gay porn, dreaming about Barry Manilow, and crushing out on his new friend Robert. Eventually, Robert and Vincent hook up, bonding over horses and nature walks until their sweet first kiss: "He must have brushed his teeth right before bed because he tastes like candy canes. When he breathes out it smells like Christmas." Vincent's shame weighs down the story until, in the final chapter, he's sitting at a campfire with a church group and suddenly realizes that God couldn't possibly think being gay is a sin.
It's hard to imagine today's teens relating to this story; modern queer kids are likely to have someone to confide in, even if they can't be out and proud to everyone they know. The 1970s setting gets in the way of the plot, and the Jesus talk is pretty heavy-handed. Still, the careful writing, simple plot, and low page count (109 in hardcover) might appeal to those still willing to read historical problem novels.